Friday, April 24, 2009

The House of the Vestals

The House of the Vestals: The Investigations of Gordianus the Finder
© 1997 Steven Saylor
260 pages

In previous weeks I have read two novels by Steven Saylor starring Gordianus the Finder, ancient Rome's very own private detective. This book is a break from Saylor's usual format in that it is a collection of short stories set between Roman Blood and Arms of Nemesis. The novel includes nine stories, although the font is set rather small so there is more to the book than its page numbers tell. The various mystery stories are not repetitive, although many of them make use of Gordianus's new friend, a patrician named Lucius Claudius. Old familar characters like Cicero make a reappearance. The stories themselves give the reader an idea about Roman theatre, the vestal virgins, Roman beekeeping, and even include a ghost story. The stories are not all about Goridanus: in the book we see his family grow and mature, and Eco and Gordianus' slave-only-in-name/wife Bethesda both feature prominently in helping him solve some of the mysteries. In one, "The Tale of the Treasure House", Bethesda relates an old Egyptian folk story (a mystery) to Gordianus to lull him to sleep. The book is quite enjoyable: not only is it well-written, but it draws heavily from historical documents and gives the reader an accidental briefing in late-Republic Roman history. Saylor ends the book with historical notes and a timeline.

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