Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Book review: "A gladiator dies only once", by Steven Saylor

This was another historical novel that I picked up from the library. It is a collection of nine short stories following Gordianus the Finder, a professional detective (or 'finder') in the days of the Roman Republic.

Gordianus is a very well-written character that has featured in many previous novels by Steven Saylor. Gordianus' investigations vary wildly; from poisonings, to murder, to an apparently stolen recipe and a child's missing toys. His unique talents leads him to meet many of the greats of that period of Roman history - he is friends with Cicero and many other famous Romans.

The book does not require too much knowledge of Ancient Rome - many terms are subtly explained within the book (the exception being patrician, which I had to look up). You get a real feeling for the period and locations, something that is often difficult to achieve in short stories. Most films concentrate on the dramatic aspects of Roman history; this book gives you a feeling for the more mundane, everyday aspects of life in Rome.

As usual with a collection of stories, some are stronger than others. The title story, 'A gladiator dies only once', is one of the strongest - Gordianus is asked to investigate how a gladiator he saw killed in a fight in the arena could have been seen walking alive around the streets of Rome.

I very much enjoyed this book. The stories are mostly of high quality, although some of the subsidiary character are less well drawn than I would have expected. I give it four out of five stars; I am tempted to read some of the novels in this series.

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