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.