Hemmed inside the walls of ancient, Greek-controlled Marseilles, Pompey's sympathizers besieging your loyalties even as Julius Caesar's legions blockade all access by land or sea, what would you expect to find? Starvation and hysteria, certainly, as well as suspicion and political intrigue in abundance. But if you happen to be Gordianus the Finder, renowned sleuth of the Roman Empire, murder finds you.
49 B.C., civil war embroiled Rome's vast empire. Caesar crossed the Rubicon
to assert his regal claim upon Rome only to find himself bitterly opposed
by his former ally, Magnus Pompey. No one in the Mediterranean world could
remain neutral in the face of the ensuing conflict. The merchant Greeks
of the fiercely independent city-state of Massillia unwisely chose to
side with Pompey, prompting Caesar to lay siege to this strategic port.
Gordianus, upon receiving
anonymous word of his son Meto's ignominious death as a spy and traitor
to Caesar, travels to Meto's last-known location, Massillia, to seek the
truth. As a father and a Finder, Gordianus refuses to believe the charges.
One of Caesar's closest officers, Meto would seem the last person to double-cross
the great warlord. Gordianus braves capture by both sides, a flooded siege
tunnel, insane city residents and other perils in his quest. But his investigation
soon takes a sinister turn when from afar he witnesses a woman plunge
to her death from atop Massillia's Sacrifice Rock.
found several engaging features in Last Seen in Massillia,
beginning with the vividly accurate historical and military details. Some
of the military descriptions wax technical, particularly those cropping
up before the plot hits full stride. But if you're into that aspect of
ancient history, you'll find those sections as fascinating as I did.
I seldom read a murder
mystery wherein the investigator witnesses the crime. An even more refreshing
twist occurs at the development of a dispute about whether the woman jumped
or was pushed by a man. This dispute flourishes chiefly between Gordianus's
companion and their colorful Massillian host, and quickly turns into a
macabre running gag providing welcome comic relief.
Then there's Gordianus
himself, a 61-year-old hero who possesses intelligence, pragmatism and
fatherly devotion in generous measures. I enjoyed riding his emotional
ups and downs in his pursuit of the truth behind what happened to the
woman and his son. Near the end, however, Gordianus makes a decision that,
as a parent, I could neither relate to nor agree with. And as a reader,
I felt deliberately strung along by this plot element's stark lack of
closure. Hence, I knocked a point off the score.
But, considering everything
Gordianus endured up to that point in this otherwise superbly detailed
novel, I do look forward to seeing how the consequences play out in Saylor's
next installment of the Roma Sub Rosa series.