Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series of novels, set in the late Roman Republic and featuring Gordianus the Finder, has garnered unusual acclaim from readers and reviewers alike, establishing him as one of the pre-eminent historical crime writers. In A Gladiator Dies Only Once, the second collection of his award-winning stories featuring Gordianus, Saylor more than meets his own high standards. Set during period between the events of his novels Roman Blood and Catalina's Riddle, these previously untold adventures range from twisted search for truth behind a threatening blind item in the Acta Diurna ("The Consul's Wife") and a kidnapping and murder during the revolt of Sertorius ("The White Fawn") to the story behind Cicero's discovery of Archimedes's tomb ("Archimedes Tomb") and a perplexing domestic situation in Gordianus's own home ("If a Cyclops Could Vanish in a Glimpse of an Eye.")
These tales from the early career of Gordianus - when his adopted son Eco was still a mute boy and his wife Bethesda was but his slave - will delight Saylor's many fans while illuminating the details of the ancient world like no other writer can.
As in The House of the Vestals (1997), Saylor's previous collection featuring Gordianus the Finder, these nine carefully researched stories cover the early phase of the ancient Roman sleuth's career, affording fans the chance to witness the growth of some important personal and political relationships, including Gordianus's connection with the legendary orator Cicero. Though Saylor's novels in this acclaimed series allow him more scope to describe settings and develop his secret Roman history, he still manages, especially in the book's highlights, "The Cherries of Lucullus" and "The White Fawn," to suspend disbelief and make all his characters feel real. Some story mysteries prove to have a noncriminal resolution, but the twisty fair-play plotting that marks Saylor's best novels (Catilina's Riddle; A Murder on the Appian Way; etc.) is very much in evidence, especially in "Archimedes's Tomb" and "Death by Eros." A partial chronology and historical notes round out this excellent volume.