In The House of the Vestals, Rome's best finder Gordianus is back in a series of short stories full of political intrigue, murder, theft, and mystery. Set in between the novels Roman Blood and Arms of Nemesis, The House of the Vestals update readers on what Gordianus has been up to in the years that pass between the two books.
In Death Wears a Mask, Gordianus tracks a murderer who targeted an actor in between play scenes. Bethesda tells the story of a King's missing treasure in The Tale of the Treasure House. Rich Patrician Lucius Claudius, who soon becomes a close friend of Gordianus, first comes to him with a mystery about a will, a supposed dead young man, and a sighting of the supposedly dead man in A Will is a Way. The Lemures is about two separate households plagued with spirits of the dead, which Gordianus must figure out even as he has his own wits scared out of him. Gordianus' life is once again put in danger when he is sent to ransom a kidnapped young boy from pirates in Little Caesar and the Pirates. The Disappearance of the Saturnalia Silver once again involves Lucius Claudius and his missing Saturnalia gifts-- this one is solved by Bethesda. In an attempt to get away from the chaos of the city, Lucius Claudius and Gordianus escape to the country in King Bee and Honey, but death and mystery follows. To entertain Lucius Claudius, Gordianus tells him the story of The Alexandian Cat and how he saved the life of a fellow Roman in Egypt after the murder of a sacred cat. Finally, in the namesake story, The House of the Vestals, Gordianus must help Cicero by solving a murder that happened in one of the most sacred buildings of Rome.
I was very eager to read this book because Roman Blood is such a good book and now one of my favorites. When I got The House of the Vestals, I didn't know it was a novel of short stories until I opened it up. Each story is short enough that it is to the point with no tangents or intertwining plotlines to stray from the one major plot focus, the mystery. Novels can get complex because they require a lot of build up and climax, as well as a lot of details, but short stories need very little of any of that and can get to the point quickly. I like short stories because they are like instant gratification, plus you can sit down and read one in between other things. Sometimes my attention span needs a break.
There are also some good character developments within the short stories. First, there is the introduction of Lucius Claudius, a new character. Second, we get to see how Gordianus and Eco are progressing in their relationship, which is almost father and son. Third, the story Little Caesar and the Pirates tells of how Gordianus got his bodyguard Belbo. And fourth, Bethesda once again shows herself to be more than a mere slave-- indeed, she is quickly showing herself to be the equal of Gordianus and very perceptive. All in all, I just really like Gordianus-- he is realistic, witty, imperfect, and practical. Like Roman Blood, the history is rich and subtle, not shoving facts in your face so much as using them for setting but teaching you about the time nonetheless. If you like short stories and Roman mystery, there is no way that you won't like The House of the Vestals.
This is an interesting collection of stories. I especially liked the instances when Eco, his later adopted son, and Bethesda, his slave and later wife, have a strong role in solving the mysteries.
As for the story "The House of the Vestals," I seem to remember this tale being a large part of one of his novels.