Steven Saylor – The Triumph of Caesar (2008)

I actually rather enjoyed Saylor’s collection of Short Stories about his Roman sleuth Gordianus the Finder (see https://mysterymile.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/saylor-the-house-of-the-vestals/) but this full length book is a very different affair. I think the word that would best summarise it is ponderous. No doubt this might appeal to those who like their historical mysteries ‘history-heavy’ but as I have remarked before, no doubt on a tedious number of occasions, if I want to read History I will go to a History book. This particular book is set in 46BC when Caesar is celebrating a quadruple triumph. It is therefore set during the period covered by the television series Rome and I found myself repeatedly wishing that the book had just one tenth of the television series’ panache, drive, wit, eroticism, dirt, grandeur, folly and all the many other qualities which made it so admirable: but above all energy. To compare the two is to put a cart-horse next to an Arabian stallion, and while the cart-horse no doubt has many admirable qualities they are not ones which I look for in a mystery novel. The ubiquitous ponderousness really prevents one getting engrossed with either the characters or the story. Really it takes some effort to write a book in which characters like Caesar, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra, Cicero et al appear and yet make them fairly forgettable. I am not questioning that Saylor does bucketloads of research, but if ever there was case of missing the wood for the trees this is it. If you want excitement (and much better history) I advise reading Gibbon.

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