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by Steven Saylor
St Martin's Minotaur, June 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 0312271204

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A GLADIATOR DIES ONLY ONCE is the second collection of short stories by Steven Saylor featuring Gordianus the Finder. Like the first collection of stories, THE HOUSE OF THE VESTALS, published in 1997, this current collection covers the early period of Gordianus's investigative career. The period ranges roughly from the 17 years between what took place in Roman Blood and Catalina's Riddle.

There are nine stories in this new collection of intrigue, mystery, and murder and the stories take Gordianus to various destinations far away from the stifling streets of his native Rome. He finds himself investigating matters ranging from elegant villas on the Bay of Naples, a Sicilian graveyard that possesses a terrifying and deadly secret to finding himself in Spain on a bloody battlefield.

Readers can of course expect to find his adopted mute son Eco (who is rapidly growing into an able assistant) by his side as well. The stories are all little gems and they are all the more impressive because they shine a light on the daily if somewhat humdrum life of ancient Rome.

They are short sharp slices of life that allow Saylor's legion of fans to observe the evolution of some of the important, personal, and political relationships as they developed. Like his full-length novels, A GLADIATOR DIES ONLY ONCE is filled with solid memorable characters intertwined with genuine historical incidents.

While Gordianus the Finder might be one of the several toga-wearing detectives that are currently in existence,, he is still to a certain extent in a league of his own. He is not above giving advice to consuls and senators and like in the full-length novels; he regularly confers with his patrician friend Lucius Claudius Cicero.

This is a wonderful collection of short stories that the reader can dip in and out of with ease. Readers should be aware, however, that at least a third of these stories have been published in other books, mainly in Mike Ashley's various collections of MAMMOTH HISTORICAL DETECTIVE anthologies. Being pedantic, one of the few things that lets this collection down is the ghastly cover. The cover of the UK version is a lot more subtle and elegant.

Reviewed by Ayo Onatade, September 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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