A Gladiator Dies Only Once

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Ancient Rome was just as brimming with crime, intrigues, and spooky events as any modern city. Gordianus the Finder, a man with a penchant for logic and nosiness, makes his living by solving such puzzles for the wealthy or desperate, a sort of first century B.C. private eye. In an ongoing series of novels, Gordianus has solved many mysteries while building up an enthusiastic audience of fans.

Steven Saylor's short story collection brings readers tales that might "slip through the cracks" of longer, more serious mysteries. Some are gentle and whimsical stories. In "If a Cyclops Could Vanish in the Blink of an Eye" the detective discovers why his son's monster figurines keep vanishing. "Something Fishy in Pompeii" explores a caper involving rival producers of garum, the spicy fish-based sauce the Romans ate with almost everything. Other stories deal with more somber matters. "Death by Eros" tells of the poolside death of a beautiful, pampered youth and the waves of tragedy that follow. In "Poppy and the Poisoned Cake," Gordianus himself narrowly escapes a dose of bitter-almond.

Cicero, a friend of the Finder's, appears in several stories and the consul Lucullus in one. But the author wisely avoids dealing with momentous mysteries of history, focusing instead on smaller tales of universal human foibles. Anyone who likes to "visit" ancient Rome vicariously is likely to enjoy A Gladiator Dies Only Once: The Further Investigations of Gordianus the Finder.