Steven Saylor Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Along with British novelist Lindsey Davis, who first introduced her comic detective, Marcus Didius Falco, in 1989, and John Maddox Roberts, whose investigator, Decius Caecilius Matellus the Younger, made his first appearance in print in 1990, Steven Saylor is part of a small cadre of modern mystery writers who have chosen to set their narratives in the world of ancient Rome. Unlike the work of Davis and Roberts, however, the novels and short stories of Saylor are perhaps less dependent on the clever sleuthing of their fictional protagonist and more focused on the recovery of a palpable, visitable past.

Saylor asserts that his work is dominated not by Gordianus the Finder but by the historical figures who populate his narratives. Critics seem to agree that the author’s greatest strength is his successful evocation of the tumultuous years of the last century b.c.e. In recreating the ancient world, however, Saylor is not content to adopt, without question, generally accepted interpretations of historical events; on the contrary, he is adept at exploring plausible alternative explanations for why some larger-than-life personages, such as Catilina or Julius Caesar, made some of their pivotal decisions. In so doing, Saylor often draws parallels to the social and political forces operative in modern times.

Saylor’s fiction has been translated into more than a dozen languages, and his novels have been short-listed for prestigious literary prizes, including the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Fletcher, Connie. Review of A Gladiator Dies Only Once, by Steven Saylor. Booklist 101, no. 15 (April 1, 2005): 1348. Review praises Saylor’s collection of short stories for their ability to evoke the Roman Repulic.

Lewis, Terrance L. “John Maddox Roberts and Steven Saylor: Detecting in the Final Decades of the Roman Republic.” In The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction, edited by Ray Broadus Browne and Lawrence Kreiser. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 2000. A comparative analysis of the works of Roberts and Saylor with an emphasis on their respective accuracy of historical detail, particularly their incorporation of historical figures and events in their fictional plots.

Saylor, Steven. Steven Saylor. The author’s own Web site, which offers up-to-date, visually appealing information on his life and work, including reviews of books, personal interviews, and links to sites related to mystery fiction and classical studies.

Sikov, Ed. “Gordianus Redux.” James White Review (Summer/Fall, 2004). An attempt to place Saylor’s Roman mysteries in the context of gay literature and, in so doing, define what is meant by the genre.

Sonntag, Claire. “Pudd’nhead Wilson and Arms of Nemesis: Two Portraits of Slavery.” In Prentice Hall Reference Guide, edited by Muriel Harris. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006. A comparative analysis of Mark Twain’s depiction of slavery in nineteenth century America and Saylor’s portrait of slavery in ancient Rome.