Who doesn’t love a good detective story? But on my shelf, you won’t find your typical James Patterson or John Grisham. Naw, I’m more of the classic Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie fare. But in terms of historical fiction mysteries, my heart belongs only to the Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor.
I adore this book series for the exact premise it describes: Sherlock Holmes style detective work in ancient Rome. It’s the perfect time period for exotic locales, political intrigue, gray-area villains, love, loss, and so much mooooore. Roma Sub Rosa chronicles the work of Gordianus the Finder throughout various history-making points in the timeline of Ancient Rome. The series is so well-written and so detailed, that it rivals the Arthur Conan Doyle classical work in my opinion. The series is also very long, and now includes a vast prequel series all about Gordianus’ teenage years, honing his skills and traveling the world.
The stories are told from Gordianus’ point of view, whose strong voice and narration language fluctuates between Benedict Cumberbatch’s persona in “Sherlock” and Frank Underwood from “House of Cards”. He’s a sharp character with a heart of gold. While set in Ancient Rome, there is no air of stuffiness or old-fashioned language and classical extras. Like a well-crafted tale, Steven Saylor illustrates a modern take on this ancient landscape, described in such a way that you feel as though you live there, like a wonky Washington, DC. This includes how people interact with each other; put it to you this way, the first book starts with Gordianus waking up to a high-brow visitor at his door, and the first thing he does is tell the mystery man to shut up and ask if he knows a cure for a bad hangover. And just like Sherlock, Gordianus has a network of connections from high society senators to the lowly orphan children, and the man has enough street credit to demand respect from both sides.
But if I may be frank for a moment, the real reason I love this series is probably for a superficial one: the sheer length of the series itself. The main storyline is 12 books long, and so far the prequel series is 3 books long. That’s a lot of time to spend with one character and his friends and family, but this is the first long-form mystery book series that I am genuinely excited about and want to keep reading.
So, are you a history buff with a secret obsession for ancient Rome? Have you been searching for something to fill the void between seasons of “Sherlock”? I can’t recommend the Roma Sub Rosa series enough! It’s got great characters, insane plots crossed with real historical figures, and an unsung hero you can raise a glass to. Check out the first book of the series, Roman Blood, and get excited.