Roman Blood by Steven Saylor
In Steven Saylor’s debut hard-boiled historical mystery, Roman Blood, Gordianus the Finder is an intrepid soul, living in a seedy section of long-ago Rome. All roads lead here and all the up-and-coming politicians--along with displaced, often enslaved people from war-torn lands--make for a sea of trouble in an atmosphere that is by turns torrid, glittering, and dangerous.
In a scene reminiscent of the first Sherlock Holmes story, Gordianus describes the brilliant Cicero down to his education, ancestry, and personal habits to the lawyer’s slave who has come to ask for his services. Indeed, for all that Gordianus is a somewhat lazy man who loves his few luxuries, including the beautiful and willful Egyptian slave Bathsheba, he is most excellent at the art of Finding.
Gordianus agrees to investigate the apparent patricide--one of the most loathed crimes that one could commit in ancient Rome--of an old nobleman with an eye for pleasures of the flesh and an intense hatred for his first-born son. Young, unfledged Cicero has taken on the terrified son’s defense, and it’s up to Gordianus to dig into the facts of the case.
Steven Saylor has done a marvelous job crafting memorable characters and bringing out the seamier and steamier side of old Rome, circa 80 B.C. This is the first in a long and enjoyable series featuring Gordianus and his household. I actually read a later book first and I must say that although this debut is very good, Saylor has gotten better with his writing mechanics while keeping the best of what made this first in the series really outstanding. Highly-recommended for those who like historical mysteries with wit and verve.