In this mystery set in Marseilles in 49 B.C., master detective Gordianus the Finder is on a personal quest to learn the truth about his missing son, Meto. Plunged into the midst of the bloody Roman civil war, the well-connected Gordianus and his son-in-law Davus survive adventure after adventure as they penetrate the Gaulic city Massilia, which is walled against Roman invasion. From the first pages, author Steven Saylor is on sure ground with his distinguished protagonist. Gordianus's careful, thoughtful musings are infused with real pathos as he seeks out information about the lost adoptive son whom, he has been informed, is dead. There is some speculation that Meto betrayed Caesar and that death was his punishment. Lacking a corpse, Gordianus cannot bring himself to believe that Meto is really dead.
Indeed, bonds between fathers and children--their betrayals, promises, and legacies--play a key role in the twisting plot of Last Seen in Massilia. Literally the title refers to Meto, but the motif extends to other key characters as well. Apollonides, the imperious ruler of Massilia, has a peculiar bond with his horribly deformed daughter. And the city's "scapegoat" Hieronymus lives out the legacy of his parents' illegal double suicide by being the human repositor of Massilia's collective sins. He is expected to hurl himself from Sacrifice Rock to appease vengeful gods.
Sacrifice Rock is central to the book, the site of a tussle between man and woman that ends, provocatively, in the woman's death. Was it suicide or murder? The three witnesses--Gordianus, Davus, and Hieronymus--are sharply divided on exactly what they saw. Gordianus pursues the truth of this mystery almost as a diversion from the more compelling mystery of his son's weird disappearance.
Fans of Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series, of which Last Seen in Massilia is the eighth installment, will be pleased by the author's consistent tone. Saylor has proven that he knows how to season a good plot with lively historical details, and this book is perhaps even more gratifying than previous installments. --Kathi Inman Berens
From Publishers Weekly
In Saylor's latest and stellar historical (after Rubicon), the Roman world is still embroiled in civil war between rival generals Pompey and Julius Caesar. Caught in the morass of conflicting loyalties, Gordianus the Finder travels to the independent city-state of Massilia (present-day Marseilles) to investigate a rumor that his son, Meto, has been killed there. Gordianus finds Massilia under siege, but thanks to an odd stroke of luck that brings disaster to the besieging army, he's able to slip into the city. There he meets Hieronymus, whom the priests have selected as the scapegoat who will throw himself off the harbor's Sacrifice Rock to appease the gods and bring relief to the city. Gordianus later witnesses what looks like murder: a cloaked woman falls from Sacrifice Rock, perhaps assisted by a man dressed in the armor of a Massilian soldier. The leader of Massilia, Apollonides, promises to investigate, but when a Gaulish merchant named Arausio believes his daughter, Rindel, was the cloaked woman who fell, Gordianus begins his own queries. In the meantime, he continues to search for information about his missing son. Is Meto alive and playing some treacherous game on Caesar's behalf? Or did he die in an attempt to escape from Pompey's minions in Massilia? Saylor presents a vivid tableau of an ancient city under siege and an empire riven by internecine strife. Readers will impatiently long for the next book in what stands as one of today's finest historical mystery series. Author tour; U.K. rights sold. (Oct.)
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