Book Review: Steven Saylor's The Throne of Caesar

Caesar's murder gets a fresh coat of paint in this mystery of ancient Rome

Steven Saylor's <i>The Throne of Caesar</i>

Steven Saylor's <i>The Throne of Caesar</i>

It's an oft-posed question: If you'd lived way back when, wouldn't you have stopped the assassination? It doesn't matter whether we're talking about Lincoln, MLK, JFK, or RFK, we remain outraged at the unexpected deaths of great leaders and dubious that these events were inevitable. It's this familiar longing for a catastrophe avoided that drives much of the tension in Steven Saylor's latest entry in his Roma Sub Rosa series, The Throne of Caesar. Whether you're fresh from a Shakespeare at Winedale summer performance of Julius Caesar or cruising on hazy memories of world history class, you recall the Great Dictator's bloody end, thanks to a plot led by senator Brutus of "et tu" fame. With that conclusion so clearly in sight, one might suppose that Throne, a book that starts ominously on March 10, would be without surprises, but in fact, it's our anticipation that becomes the novel's most powerful engine.

The 16th (and last) addition to the Roma Sub Rosa series, Throne follows Saylor's charming proto-detective Gordianus the Finder, who has watched Caesar's ascension to power with mixed feelings over his past adventures. Now in his 60s and comfortably entrenched in family life, it's Gordianus that gives the story warmth and stakes. Excluded from the circle of conspirators, he catches whiffs of trouble as he prepares to become a senator on the Ides of March, but the truth of what's about to happen remains tantalizingly out of his reach. After an overdose of Sherlock-model detectives who pull solutions to mysteries from thin air, there's something bracing about encountering a hero with such reasonable limits to his abilities, even if it has you shouting, like a horror movie audience, "Don't go in the Senate!"

Gun-shy about entering this series at the 11th hour? Don't be. Throne operates confidently as a standalone novel and offers a nice setup for a first-time or reread of the series at its end. Saylor's ease with the era – well-earned, after focusing on this period for more than 20 years – makes for a richly textured, lived-in vision of 44BC where both intrigue and home comforts abound.

The Throne of Caesar

by Steven Saylor
Minotaur Books, 392 pp., $27.99

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin authors
Nathan Harris Pens an Intimate Civil War Tale in <i>The Sweetness of Water</i>
Nathan Harris Pens an Intimate Civil War Tale in The Sweetness of Water
In his debut novel, the Michener Center alumnus brings "a new story to the table"

Robert Faires, June 18, 2021

<i>Paris Without Her: A Memoir</i> by Gregory Curtis
Paris Without Her: A Memoir
In his latest book, the Austin author walks through the City of Light to find a new life after his wife's death

Robert Faires, May 21, 2021

More mystery
<i>Murder on Cold Street</i> by Sherry Thomas
Murder on Cold Street by Sherry Thomas
Sherry Thomas' fifth outing in the Lady Sherlock series is as fascinating and feminist as ever

Oct. 9, 2020

<i>The Undertaker's Daughter</i> by Sara Blaedel
The Undertaker's Daughter by Sara Blaedel
Denmark's "Queen of Crime" brings the mystery Stateside with a Danish woman who must deal with both a funeral home she's inherited in Wisconsin and a local murder

Elizabeth Cobbe, July 20, 2018

More Arts Reviews
<i>Young Claus</i>
Young Claus
Charming tale of Santa before he was so jolly and round

Katherine McNevins, Dec. 22, 2023

<i>Unheard Witness</i>
Unheard Witness
The untold story of Charles Whitman’s wife is one of domestic violence red flags

Katherine McNevins, Nov. 17, 2023

More by Rosalind Faires
<i>Before Stonewall</i> by Edward Cohen
Before Stonewall
The short stories in this collection from Austin's Awst Press simmer with queer rage, grief, and longing

June 25, 2021

<i>One Last Stop</i> Is an Electrifying Queer Timeslip Romance
One Last Stop Is an Electrifying Queer Timeslip Romance
The author of Red, White & Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston, unveils her second novel

June 4, 2021


Crime Month 2018, Austin authors, Steven Saylor, Roma Sub Rosa, Julius Caesar, mystery, historical fiction, Crime Month 2018, Austin authors, Steven Saylor, Roma Sub Rosa, Julius Caesar, mystery, historical fiction, Texas Book Festival 2018

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle