Catilina's Riddle

Steven Saylor

Ivy Books 1993
A book review by Danny Yee © 1994
Catilina's Riddle is the third in a series of historical mystery novels featuring Gordianus the Finder. This time the background is the "conspiracy" of Catilina, and the mystery component is confined to a rather uninteresting subplot, with the confrontation between Cicero and Catilina taking most of the attention. Mostly this is described third hand in set piece speeches reported by messengers, and so lacks any kind of immediacy. The result is not terribly engaging as a novel, and will probably really only appeal to those with an interest in the history. (This is, strangely enough, quite the opposite to Arms of Nemesis, the preceding novel in the series.)

The basic thesis of Catilina's Riddle is that Catalina has received a bad press from historians, who haven't been sceptical enough of the rather biased portrayals of Cicero and Sallust. It's not a complete whitewash, however, and (though I'm no expert on the period) seems like a rather plausible reconstruction of events. Of course (as Saylor discusses in an Author's Note) this idea is not novel and has been covered in the technical literature, and the student of history may prefer to look there. Catalina's Riddle is an uneasy amalgam of genres and unlikely to be a great success as a popular mystery, which is what it is being marketed as.

November 1994

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Related reviews:
- Steven Saylor - Arms of Nemesis
- books about Rome + Roman history
- more historical mystery
%T Catilina's Riddle
%A Saylor, Steven
%I Ivy Books
%D 1993
%O paperback
%G ISBN 080411269X
%P 463pp