Book Review: Steven Saylor's The Throne of Caesar
Caesar's murder gets a fresh coat of paint in this mystery of ancient Rome
Reviewed by Rosalind Faires, Fri., July 13, 2018
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 Caesarby Steven Saylor
Minotaur Books, 392 pp., $27.99