Book Review: Steven Saylor’s Last Seen in Massilia

Posted May 26, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Steven Saylor’s Last Seen in Massilia

Last Seen in Massilia


Steven Saylor

historical mystery that was published by Minotaur Books on October 7, 2000 and has 277 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Rubicon, A Mist of Prophecies

Eighth in the Roma Sub Rosa historical mystery series and revolving around Gordianus the Finder and his family in the Rome of 49 BC.

My Take

Last Seen in Massilia is not as tense or dramatic as it could have been. It’s definitely an easy read that won’t make your heart race. I’m not really sure why Saylor wrote this one, unless it’s to create the situation that culminates in that scene at the end. It doesn’t feel as if Gordianus is doing much in the way of detecting in Last Seen in Massilia but flopping about, providing Saylor the opportunity to show us another style of government, another city in ancient times, a different approach to religion.

That is one of the pluses of Saylor’s writing. He shows what is happening. It’s not as intense a show as say, Bernard Cornwell, but he is not telling the story. I feel as though I am also walking those streets, wending my way through canyons, swimming my way through a flooded tunnel. I can see the view from Hieronymus’ rooftop, the piles of treasures in Verres’ vault, the décor within the homes. I can taste those figs — and want some of my own for real! Nor does he indulge in the hated info dumps! Yeah!! Saylor does a great job of informing us without sounding like an encyclopedia or a news article.

Saylor also pays attention to the dress, culture, mores, and more of the time. Thank you, god! I do get tired of dimes in Regency novels. It’s this attention to detail that helps pull you into 49 BC. And he makes it so seamless.

As for the story itself, Caesar is definitely a politician. He promises one thing and does another. The Council of Fifteen is no better. They never bothered to rotate the emergency stores, deeming it too costly. Now half of it is moldy and rations are reduced within the city. Businessmen and lovers lie and cheat as well, still.

Gordianus takes some tremendous risks to find Meto, and along the way, he discovers some good people. Not many, but some. I’m not sure how to categorize Publicius and Minucius. They do mean well, but if they are an example of Catilina’s followers, it’s not surprising that he lost his battle. Talk about a couple of idiotic syncophants!

Worshipping gods and goddesses is one thing, heaping all your sins on one person and then sacrificing that person, well, that’s another. Oh, wait. That’s what the Christians did back in AD 33. Luckily for this story’s Scapegoat, he’s at least treated well.

It’s fascinating how similar our societies are. Oh, sure, we have television, cars, the Internet, and in many ways I think the Romans and Greeks were more advanced than us. We may have microwaves and refrigerators, but they enjoyed their food. They took the time to enjoy it. They talked, discussed, debated, argued. Person to person. Yes, they also gossiped, but they also had philosophical discussions. On the negative side, people on either end of the timeline are greedy, selfish, cruel, loving, loyal, and more. Politicians and military men have not changed over the centuries. Nor have families.

The Story

Gordianus and Davus have been traveling for the past twenty days, heading to Massilia. That note left Gordianus confused and worried, and he needs to see for himself. They’ve already heard that the city refused to open its gates to Caesar, and Gordianus is thinking up ways to get in.

No one would ever have suspected the ruse that works, and thankfully, Gordianus and Davus are rescued by the Scapegoat, a sacrifice who can do no wrong.

The Characters

Gordianus is a Finder, a private investigator who has retired. Davus is a former slave and bodyguard to Pompey, but now a freedman married to Diana, Gordianus and Bethesda’s daughter.

Meto is Gordianus’ adopted son who edits Caesar’s work. Well, he used to be until he plotted to kill Caesar. He ran from Rome to Massilia in Rubicon. Eco is his other adopted son who has taken over the Finder business.

Gaius Juluis Caesar is continuing his hunt for Pompey and is currently waging war in Spain while Gaius Trebonius is in charge at the siege of Massilia. Marc Antony is holding Rome for Caesar. Engineer Vitruvius (Rubicon) is a military engineer and designs siegeworks and tunnel operations.

Massilia is…
…what we know as Marseille, and it’s a Greek city, an ally of Rome’s for the past 500 years. It’s also the end of the road for Roman exiles, and the city is full of them. They worship Artemis in Massilia in the form of a misshapen hunk of meteor rock.

The Scapegoat was chosen to bear the sins of the city, and hopefully, gain the city safety from the besieging Romans when he jumps off Sacrifice Rock. It’s Hieronymus‘ last chance for revenge against the people who destroyed his family.

Apollonides is the First Timouchos, the leader of the rotating Timouchoi Council of Fifteen which rules Massilia as a timocracy — government by the wealthy. Hmmm, sounds like us, doesn’t it? The entire Timouchoi body is 600 members. Cydimache is Apollonides’ hideously ugly and deformed daughter. Normally, she would have been exposed at birth, but the requirements of Massilia encourage her father to keep her. Zeno is the man who married her, abandoning the woman he loved.

Arausio is a Gaulish merchant whose beautiful daughter, Rindel, has disappeared. Rindel is also the name of his wife. Calamitos was and is one of Hieronymus’ torturers.

Famous exiles include…
Gaius Verres, a Sicilian governor who was successfully (surprisingly) convicted of malfeasance; Milo was a gang-leader who was found guilty of murdering Clodius in A Murder on the Appian Way, 5 (Milo’s wife, Fausta, declined to go into exile with him); Publicius and Minucius are two of the followers of Catilina in the city ( Catilina’s Riddle, 3); and those Romans who were persecuted simply because they disagreed with Pompey.

Rabidus is a cloaked and hooded soothsayer who ghosts through the countryside and Massilia. Marcus and a fellow soldier guard the Temple of Artemis just outside the Roman camp.

Gnaeus Pompey has sailed toward Greece. Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, a.k.a., Redbeard, represents Pompey’s interests in Massilia; he’s the one who convinced the city to side with Pompey. Suckers.

The Cover and Title

The cover is similar to that of Rubicon with its huge painting of a battle scene outside city walls framed with gold moldings against a black wall and a deep red carved empaneled wainscoting.

The title is both real and metaphorical, both joyful and grieved when Last Seen in Massilia.