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    Review of A GLADIATOR DIES ONLY ONCE by Steven Saylor (see his website)


    St. Martin's Minotaur, June 2005

    The Roman Republic is in its last days and all manner of crime festers. When Roman nobles need truly discreet investigative services, they often turn to Gordianus, the finder. Gordianus follows leads where they take him--to the palaces of the oligarchy warring for control of the dying Republic, to the dives inhabited by slaves and freemen. There he discovers what every Roman knows--slaves know all the secrets, and that evil comes as often from those who want for nothing as it does from those who are desperately in need.

    A GLADIATOR DIES ONLY ONCE is a collection of short mysteries undertaken by Gordianus over the course of his career. The Consul's Wife tells of a strange plot tied up with a rebel general who is attempting to create a new Roman Republic in Spain. If A Cyclops Could Vanish in the Blink of an Eye is a charming interlude with strange disappearances. The White Fawn takes Gordianus to the rebellion in Spain. Something Fishy in Pompeii uncovers commercial espionage. Archimedes's Tomb deals with Cicero and Archimedes's great discovery of water displacement. Death by Eros describes the murder of a town's golden boy. A Gladiator Dies Only Once, the story that gives the collection its name, tells of a pre-Spartacus gladiator organization with some strange practices. Poppy and the Poisoned Cake examines the role of the Roman Censor--both census-taker and guardian of morals. The Cherries of Lucullus looks at a strange affliction--and the question of whether humans possess an ability to determine truth, without regard to the known senses.

    As with many collections, GLADIATOR is somewhat uneven. Several of the stories were clearly dashed off based on an amusing idea. Others probe more deeply into the decline of the Republic than they do into crime. Some, including the final story, The Cherries of Lucullus, are deeply moving.

    Author Steven Saylor (see more reviews of mysteries by Saylor) offers a fascinating view into the late Republic. While the mystery element in the short stories is sometimes compromised by the short story format (how many red herrings can viably be introduced in such a short number of pages), GLADIATOR gives the reader something to think about, some insights into the dying days of Republican Rome (when most people believed that the Republic would endure forever), and even some insights into people at large.

    Gordianus is more fully developed in Saylor's novel-length works, but GLADIATOR is a welcome addition to the opus.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 8/21/05

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