Cover image for Rubicon
Saylor, Steven, 1956-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
vii, 276 pages : map ; 25 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"Caesar and his troops have crossed the Rubicon and are marching on Rome. Pompey, his rival, is preparing to flee south with the Senate and his loyal troops, leaving the city unguarded, ungoverned, and on the verge of chaos. In the midst of the mounting panic, Pompey's cousin and protege, Numerius, is found murdered, garroted in the garden of Gordianus the Finder. Enraged, Pompey demands that Gordianus investigate the murder and uncover the killer, taking his son-in-law hostage to force the reluctant Gordianus to comply. With one son a trusted aide of Caesar and his son-in-law held by Pompey, Gordianus must learn the secrets of a dead man and reveal his killer to protect his own family from being crushed by the opposing forces that will forever change the Roman world."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

Steven Saylor (born March 23, 1956) is an American author of historical novels. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied history and Classics. Although he also has written novels about Texas history, Saylor's best-known work is his Roma Sub Rosa series, set in ancient Rome. The novels' hero is a detective named Gordianus the Finder, active during the time of Sulla, Cicero, Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra.

He divides his time residing in California and texas. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Saylor's seventh book in his ambitious Roma Sub Rosa series takes place in 49 B.C. at the start of the Roman civil war. Surrounded by such august personages as the dashing Marc Antony and the brilliant poet-philosopher Cicero, Caesar is engaged in a battle to oust Pompey and proclaim himself king of the Roman state. The story begins as Pompey's cousin Numerius is found murdered in the courtyard of Gordianus, a sometime investigator. Gordianus' investigation ultimately leads him on a dangerous journey across Italy to Brundisium, where Pompey has taken a last, desperate stand. In a conclusion as shocking as it is unexpected, Gordianus exposes the killer, but only at great personal sacrifice. The depth and realism of detail and ambiance, the superbly crafted plot, the sense of excitement and adventure, and the way Saylor makes ancient Rome--its people, politics, customs, sights, and sounds--come alive add up to a gripping read that's as intense as it is satisfying. --Emily Melton

Publisher's Weekly Review

Even readers not drawn to historical settings should explore Saylor's impressive series (Murder on the Appian Way, etc.) set in ancient Rome. Saylor's protagonist, Gordianus the Finder, whom Cicero characterizes as "the most honest man in Rome," is an astute citizen and a detective for the Senate. An independent thinker, Gordianus has freed his slaves, marrying one, and adopted several orphans whom he has raised as his own sons. But at 61, the wily Gordianus finds his survival instincts pushed to the utmost, for Rome is on the verge of civil war and all must be careful with their alliances. Caesar has crossed the Rubicon with his army, and his rival, Pompey, the head of the Roman Senate, is about to abandon the city, leaving its citizens without laws and protection. In the midst of this turmoil, Pompey's favorite cousin and trusted courier is murdered in Gordianus's garden. Infuriated, Pompey orders the sleuth to find the killer, insuring his loyalty by impressing one of Gordianus's relatives into his own army. While Gordianus copes with this treacherous mix of family and politics, a heightened frenzy overtakes Rome as it awaits Caesar's possible invasion. Saylor writes about ancient Rome as naturally and comfortably as if he had lived there, capturing both its glory and brutality. Finely shadowed characters and an action-packed finale make this a praiseworthy addition to a series that deserves wide attention. Agent, Alan Nevins; author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In Saylors seventh novel set in ancient Rome (e.g., The House of the Vestals, St. Martins, 1997), the reader is once again caught up in a world of murder, intrigue, and history as Gordianus the Finder attempts to solve the murder of Pompeys cousin Numerius. The civilized world of 49 B.C.E. is in turmoil at the onset of the Roman Civil War. Julius Caesar has crossed the Rubicon River into Italy with his hand-picked troops. Pompey, his chief rival for control of Rome, has fled Rome with his followers from the Senate, and all is chaos as the people leave the city. Gordianuss task is made all the more difficult by his discovery that his son may be involved in a plot against Caesars life. This novel is an excellent blending of mystery and history. Although Rubicon will stand alone, be prepared for demand for Saylors other titles.Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One "Pompey will be mightily pissed," said Davus.     "Son-in-law, you have a penchant for stating the obvious." I sighed and knelt and steeled myself to take a closer look. The lifeless body lay face-down in the middle of my garden directly before the bronze statue of Minerva, like a prostrate worshiper at the goddess's feet.     Davus turned in a circle, shielding his eyes from the morning sunlight and peering warily at the four corners of the peristyle roof surrounding us. "What I can't see is how the assassin got in and out without any of us in the house hearing." He wrinkled his brow, which made him look like a perplexed and much overgrown boy. Built like a Greek statue, and just as thick ; that was Bethesda's joke. My wife had not taken kindly to the notion of our only daughter marrying a slave, especially a slave who had been brash enough, or stupid enough, to get her pregnant. But if Davus had a penchant for the obvious, Diana had a penchant for Davus. And there was no denying that they had produced a beautiful son, whom I could hear even now screaming at his mother and grandmother to be let out into the garden, crying as only a two-year-old can. But Aulus could not be let out to play on this bright, mild Januarius afternoon, for there was a corpse in the garden.     And not just any corpse. The dead man was Numerius Pompeius, who was somehow related to Pompey--one of the Great One's cousins, though a couple of generations younger. He had arrived at my house, alone, half an hour earlier. Now he lay dead at my feet.     "I can't understand it." Davus scratched his head. "Before I let him in the door, I took a good look up and down the street, like I always do. I didn't notice anybody following him." When Davus had been a slave, he had been a bodyguard--an obvious choice, given his hulking physique. He had been trained not just to fight but to keep a lookout for danger. Now as a freedman and my son-in-law, Davus was the physical protector of the household, and in these perilous times it was his job to greet visitors at the door. Now that a murder had occurred within the house, practically under his nose, he took it as a personal failure. In the face of my silence, Davus seemed determined to interrogate himself. He paced back and forth, using his fingers to tick off each question.     "Why did I let him in? Well, because he announced himself as Numerius Pompeius, Kinsman of the Great One. And he came alone--not even a bodyguard to worry about--so I didn't see any need to make him wait outside. I let him into the foyer. Did I ask if he had any weapons? It's against the law to carry weapons inside the city walls, of course, but nobody pays attention to that these days, so yes, I did ask, and he didn't make any fuss at all and handed over his dagger right away. Did I search him for more weapons, as you've told me to do, even with citizens? Yes, I did, and he didn't even protest. Did I leave him alone, even for a moment? No, I did not. I stayed with him there in the foyer, sent little Mopsus to tell you there was a visitor, then waited until you sent back word that you'd see him. I escorted him through the house, back here to the garden. Diana and Aulus were out here with you, playing in the sunny spot at Minerva's feet ... right where Numerius is lying now ... but you sent them inside. Did I stay with you? No, because you sent me inside, too. But I knew better! I should have stayed."     "Numerius said he had a message for my ears alone," I said. "If a man can't safely have a private talk in his own home ..." I looked about the garden, at the carefully pruned shrubbery and the brightly colored columns that lined the surrounding walkway. I gazed up at the bronze statue of Minerva; after all these years, the face that peered down from her great war helmet remained inscrutable to me. The garden was at the center of the house, its heart--the heart of my world--and if I was not safe here, then I was safe nowhere.     "Don't chastise yourself, Davus. You did your job."     "But I should never have left you unguarded, even for--"     "Have we reached a point where a common citizen needs to mimic Pompey or Caesar, and have a bodyguard standing over him every moment of every hour, even when he's wiping his ass?"     Davus frowned, I knew what he was thinking--that it was unlike me to talk so crudely, that I must be badly shaken and trying not to show it, that his father-in-law was getting too old to deal with ugly shocks like a corpse in the garden before the midday meal. He stared up at the rooftop again. "But Numerius wasn't the danger, was he? It was whoever followed him here. The killer must be half lizard, to scurry up and down the walls without making a sound! Did you hear nothing, father-in-law?"     "I told you, Numerius and I talked for a while, then I left him for a moment and stepped into my study."     "But that's only a few feet away. Still, I suppose the statue of Minerva might have blocked the view. And your hearing--"     "My ears are as sharp as those of any man of sixty-one!"     Davus nodded respectfully. "However it happened, it's a good thing you weren't out here when the assassin came, or else ..."     "Or else I might have been strangled, too?" I touched my fingers to the rope that still circled Numerius's neck, cutting into the livid flesh. He had been killed with a simple garrote, a short loop of rope attached to each end of a short, stout twisting stick.     Davus knelt beside me. "The killer must have come up behind him, dropped the garrote over his head, then used the stick to twist it tighter and tighter around his throat. A gruesome way to die."     I turned away, feeling queasy.     "But a quiet way," Davus went on. "Numerius couldn't even cry out! Maybe he managed a gurgle or a grunt at the start, but then, with his air cut off, the only way to make a sound would be to bang against something. See there, father-in-law, how Numerius gouged his heels into the gravel? But that wouldn't make much noise. If only he could have banged a fist against the bronze Minerva ... but both hands are clutched to his throat. That's a man's instinct, to try to tear the rope from his neck. I wonder ..." Davus peered up at the roof again. "The killer needn't have been a big fellow. It doesn't take a great deal of strength to garrote a man, even a big man, so long as you take him unaware."     I nodded. "Pompey will have to be told. I suppose. I must do it myself--make the trip outside the city walls to Pompey's villa, wait for an interview, give him the bad news, then let him deal with the matter as he chooses. Here, help me roll the body face-up."     From inside the house, I heard my little grandson shouting again to be let into the garden. I looked toward the doorway. Bethesda and Diana peered out anxiously, It was something of a miracle that they had so far obeyed me and stayed out of the garden. Bethesda started to speak, but I held up my hand and shook my head. I was rather surprised when she nodded and withdrew, taking Diana with her.     I forced myself to look at Numerius's strangled face. It was a sight to give anyone nightmares.     He had been young, in his twenties, probably a bit older than Davus. His broad, blandly handsome features were now discolored and distorted and almost unrecognizable in a rictus of agony. I swallowed hard. As I used two fingers to shut his lids, I saw my reflection in the black pool of his staring eyes. No wonder my wife and daughter had obeyed me without question. The look on my face was alarming even to me.     I stood, my knees crackling like the gravel beneath my feet. Davus sprang up beside me, as supple as a cat despite his size.     "Pompey will be mightily pissed," I said gravely.     "I said that already!"     "So you did, Davus. But bad news keeps, as the poet says. The day is young, and I see no need to rush across Rome to bring Pompey the news. What do you say we have a closer look, and see what Numerius may be carrying?"     "But I told you, I searched him when I took his dagger. There was only a small moneybag around his waist, with a clip for his scabbard. Nothing else."     "I wouldn't be sure of that. Help me take off his clothes. Be careful; we shall have to put everything back exactly as it was, before Pompey's men come to claim the body.     Beneath his well-cut woolen tunic, Numerius wore a linen loincloth. It was wet with urine, but he had not soiled himself. He wore no jewelry except for his citizen's ring. I took off the ring and examined it; it appeared to be solid iron, with no secret compartments or hidden devices. There were only a few coins inside his moneybag; considering the chaotic state of the city, it would not have been prudent for a man without bodyguards to carry more. I turned the bag inside out. There were no secret pockets.     "Perhaps you're right, Davus, Perhaps he was carrying nothing of interest, after all. Unless ... Take off his shoes, would you? My back aches from bending over."     The uppers were made of finely tanned black leather stamped with an intricate design of interconnected triangles, closed and fastened by thongs that wound around the ankle and calf. The soles were quite thick, made of several layers of hardened leather attached to the uppers by hobnails. There was nothing inside them, They were warm and carried the scent of Numerius's feet; handling them was more intimate than handling his clothing or even his ring. I was about to hand them back to Davus when I noticed an irregularity in the layered sole, at the heel. The same irregularity appeared at the same spot in both shoes. There were two breaks in the middle layer of the sole, about a thumb's length apart. Near one of the breaks was a small hole.     "Do you have the dagger you took from Numerius?"     Davus wrinkled his brow. "Yes. Ah, I see! But if you mean to cut into his shoes, I can fetch a better knife from the kitchen."     "No, let me see Numerius's dagger."     Davus reached inside his tunic. I handed him the shoes and he handed me the dagger in its sheath.     I nodded. "What do you notice about this sheath, Davus?"     He frowned, suspecting a test of some sort. "It's made of leather."     "Yes, but what sort of leather?"     "Black." He saw that I was unimpressed and tried again. "It's decorated."     "How?"     "It's stamped--and the same pattern is carved on the wooden hilt of the dagger."     "Yes, a pattern of interlocking triangles."     Davus peered at the shoes in his hands. "The same pattern as on his shoes!"     "Exactly. Meaning?"     Davus was stumped.     "Meaning," I said, "that whatever shop made the shoes also made the dagger. They're a set. Rather unusual, don't you think, that the same shop should produce such dissimilar goods?"     Davus nodded, pretending to follow my thoughts. "So--are you going to pull out the dagger and cut open the shoes, or not?"     "No, Davus, I am going to unlock the shoes." I left the blade in its sheath and studied the hilt, which was carved from the hard black wood of the Syrian terebinth, attached to the metal by bosses of ivory. The triangle design ingeniously concealed the hidden compartment in the hilt, but it slid open easily once I found the right place to press with my thumb. Inside the compartment was a tiny key, hardly more than a sliver of bronze with a little hook near one end.     "Son-in-law, hold up the shoes with the heels facing me." I started with the shoe on my left. The irregularity in the heel, the two breaks I had noticed in the center layer of leather, proved to be a narrow door, with a hinge at one side and a keyhole at the other. I inserted the tiny key into the tiny hole. After a bit of fiddling, the door gave a little snap and sprang open.     "Extraordinary!" I whispered. "What workmanship! So delicate--yet sturdy enough to be trod on." I took the shoe from Davus, held it under the sunlight and peered down into the narrow chamber. I saw nothing. I turned the shoe over and knocked it against my palm. Nothing came out.     "Empty!" I said.     "We could still cut into it," said Davus helpfully.     I gave him a withering look. "Son-in-law, did I not say that we must put back all of Numerius's things exactly as they were, so that Pompey's men will see no signs of our tampering when they come to fetch him?"     Davus nodded.     "That includes his shoes! Now hand me the other one." I inserted the key and fiddled until the lock sprang open.     There was something inside. I withdrew what appeared to be several pieces of thin parchment. Excerpted from RUBICON by STEVEN SAYLOR. Copyright © 1999 by Steven Saylor. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Part 1 Minerva
Part 2 Mars
Part 3 Dionysus
Author's Note