You can find links to other blogs taking part here.
I mentioned some of my favorite titles and authors yesterday, when I posted about Classic Fiction, but I promise not to repeat myself today. I have a rather wide selection of favorite genres, so I have decided to take a departure from the usual genres that I write about and discuss Ancient Roman Mysteries.
This is probably a surprise, especially if you have read anything else on my blog, as it is one genre that I have barely discussed here and have never reviewed. This is not because I do not want to blog about it or review the titles, but it is simply a genre that has been moved to a back burner while I try to swim through the avalanche of Speculative Fiction and other titles that have made their way to my TBR list. I keep planning to open a second blog for this genre, but I simply have not found the time, or energy, yet. I have a title though: Veni, Vidi, Legi which is Latin for “I came, I saw, I read!” It is a sad theft of Julius Caesar’s famous Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered!), which he claims to have said when he landed in Britain, but I digress . . .
I have had a long passion for Ancient Rome, which started when I studied Latin at school, several decades ago. I have always felt drawn to their history and eventually decided to study them as part of the BA in Classical Studies that I completed in 2007. I have been fortunate enough to spend many happy holidays in modern Rome, which I consider my home-away-from-home, so I love any book that helps me to relive that part of history. For some reason, mysteries set in this period have become rather popular in recent years, but I will mention my favorite authors and recommend them to you.
This first recommendation is not actually a mystery, but this is my blog post, so I can bend my own rules a little! If you want to get a feel for the intricate political life and personalities of the first Roman Emperors, whilst being shocked and intrigued by them, I would highly recommend that you read Robert Graves’ account of the life of the Emperor Claudius. It is published in two volumes: I, Claudius and Claudius the God, which were the inspiration for one of the best TV shows that the BBC produced in the seventies. It was shown on PBS in the US and is still available on DVD, because it is that good. It is an acting powerhouse and transcends the cheap sets and dodgy aging makeup because it is so compelling and powerful.
Now to actually get to some proper mystery authors:
John Maddox Roberts writes about Decius Cecilius Metellus, who is the son of a rich family and is trying to work his way through the various posts of Roman bureaucracy at the end of the Roman Republic. Along the way he becomes entangled with a series of crimes that he is duty bound to investigate. The first in this SPQR series is The King’s Gambit, which was nominated for an Edgar Award and follows Decius as he uncovers corruption politicians who are using gang warfare as a smoke screen while they maneuver for power. We encounter such historical figures as Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Crassus and Cicero who do not always stand up to their portrayals in history.
Steven Saylor also writes about the late Republican period, and so we encounter many of the same characters in his stories. However, his protagonist is Gordianus the Finder, a lowly investigator, who is quite different from the almost playboy character of Decius. Gordianus is a normal workingman, with few links to the aristocracy, but he becomes embroiled in one of Cicero’s most famous legal cases because he has a good reputation and is cheap. The Roma Sub Rosa series begins with Roman Blood and is excellent at recreating the sights and smells of the ancient city. Much less energetic and fast-paced than the SPQR titles, they will give you a far better feel for the details of Roman society and the characters involved.
My final recommendation is also my favorite. Setting them during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, as he attempts to clean up the mess left by Nero, Lindsay Davis takes an entirely different approach to her mysteries. Our hero is Marcus Didius Falco, after whom the series is named. He is a flea-bitten ex-solider turned private investigator who lives in a tiny apartment that keeps threatening to fall down. It has a great deal of humor mixed in with the stories and it has some remarkably wonderful characters, including a giant snake, called Jason, who has been taught to perform some interesting moves with his owner, the impressively muscular Thalia. There is a delightfully cynical feel to these books, with Falco being repeatedly beaten nearly to death and constantly desperate to avoid his landlord because he does not have the money to pay his rent. He has a very rich and sophisticated girlfriend, Helena Justina, who is totally out of his league and a pal in the local equivalent of the police force, so there is a real sense of classic gumshoe stories. The series begins with The Silver Pigs, when Falco gets sent to the worst place in the Empire: Britain!
I know that you were probably expecting me to wax lyrical about the wonders of Epic Fantasy, extolling the virtues of George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson and J.R.R. Tolkien, amongst others. But I have spent plenty of time praising them on my blog, so I thought it was time for something a little different.