As Caesar marches on Rome and panic erupts in the city, Gordianus the Finder discovers, in his own home, the body of Pompey's favorite cousin. Before fleeing the city, Pompey exacts a terrible bargain from the finder of secrets-to unearth the killer, or sacrifice his own son-in-law to service in Pompey's legions, and certain death. Amid the city's sordid underbelly, Gordianus learns that the murdered man was a dangerous spy. Now, as he follows a trail of intrigue, betrayal, and ferocious battles on land and sea, the Finder is caught between the chaos of war and the terrible truth he must finally reveal.
Even readers not drawn to historical settings should explore Saylor's impressive series (Murder on the Appian Way, etc.) set in ancient Rome. Saylor's protagonist, Gordianus the Finder, whom Cicero characterizes as "the most honest man in Rome," is an astute citizen and a detective for the Senate. An independent thinker, Gordianus has freed his slaves, marrying one, and adopted several orphans whom he has raised as his own sons. But at 61, the wily Gordianus finds his survival instincts pushed to the utmost, for Rome is on the verge of civil war and all must be careful with their alliances. Caesar has crossed the Rubicon with his army, and his rival, Pompey, the head of the Roman Senate, is about to abandon the city, leaving its citizens without laws and protection. In the midst of this turmoil, Pompey's favorite cousin and trusted courier is murdered in Gordianus's garden. Infuriated, Pompey orders the sleuth to find the killer, insuring his loyalty by impressing one of Gordianus's relatives into his own army. While Gordianus copes with this treacherous mix of family and politics, a heightened frenzy overtakes Rome as it awaits Caesar's possible invasion. Saylor writes about ancient Rome as naturally and comfortably as if he had lived there, capturing both its glory and brutality. Finely shadowed characters and an action-packed finale make this a praiseworthy addition to a series that deserves wide attention.