By Richard C.
I’m obsessed with ancient Rome. The histories, battles, maps and books. And because I know I’m not alone, here is the first of several posts to come on library resources for (ex mea sententia) those most august and discerning of persons, we Romanophiles!
But also for those who love our very first topic, historical mysteries!
Now modern mysteries may have their charm – their forensics (pff), their firearms (yawn). I want a book where I’m solving crimes with very little more than my wits and determination to guide me. The biggest difference between our ancient sleuths and their 20th century counterparts? Irrefutably, it’s the better names. Lincoln Rhyme, Hercule Poirot? Very nice, certainly, but feel it when you say a name like Marcus Didius Falco… Or maybe you like Sam Spade, Lew Archer, Philip Marlowe? Nothing so wrong with them! But any day of the week, give me Gordianus the Finder!
Gordianus the Finder
Steven Saylor writes some my favorite historical mysteries, all set during the time of ancient Rome. In his Roma Sub Rosa series, Gordianus the Finder is a shrewd crime solver during the Late Republic of Sulla, Cicero, Crassus, and Caesar. My favorite is Murder on the Appian Way, in which the murder of Publius Clodius sparks already riotous Romans on the verge of revolution. Saylor’s plotting progresses with ease and would make the delightful Mediterranean settings all the more accessible for your summer reading.
Marcus Didius Falco
Lindsey Davis created in Marcus Didius Falco one of the greatest “informers” of ancient historical mysteries. I love these books because they take the Mediterranean world of the 1st Century A.D. and bring it to life with both accuracy and adventure. Marcus Didius Falco is a skilled professional – satirical but ultimately effective. In Saturnalia, Emperor Vespasian hires Falco to find a missing enemy during one of ancient Rome’s most interesting holidays. In Nemesis, Falco searches for a killer but it’s an uphill battle against some of Rome’s most protected families. In Alexandria, Falco and his wife enjoy an Egyptian vacation until the head librarian is found dead (perish the thought!) and the truly villainous book thieves are on the loose!
And if you have liked any of those choices, Davis continues the series with Falco’s adopted daughter, Flavia Albia. Newest is Enemies at Home. When newlyweds are found dead and everyone blames the slaves. Flavia is called to investigate but will draw her own conclustions. For many, the strong female lead will make the ancient setting more widely accessible.
Decius Caecilius Metellus
Finally, John Roberts Maddox pens a terrific series called SPQR, short for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus. Unlike Gordianus or Falco, Decius Caecilius Metellus was a real person and Maddox fictionalizes him as an old man looking back over momentous events from the Republic’s final decades. Maddox is an engaging writer and there’s no need to read his books in order. My favorite from SPQR is The Cataline Conspiracy because, though little known, Cataline had a tremendous and precedent-setting effect on the political lives of more familiar figures like Cicero and Caesar.
Well that’s it for now, Romanophiles, or those of you considering the title! Stay tuned for more posts. Will it be movies? Architecture? Biographies? Hmmm…