Gladiator Dies Only Once

Jean-Leon Gerome Pollice Verso.jpg

Jean-Léon Gérôme [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve never figured myself as a big reader of short mystery stories. Of course that never stopped me from reading O. Henry or Guy de Maupassant – admittedly some of that was in high school, but mysteries, especially historical mysteries had to be full length productions, ones that keep me up late, skipping meals and (gasp) ignoring family. Yet as I ran through an entire collection – Robert Parker’s Spenser series for instance, or Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series, I found myself hankering for more tales of these sleuths and prepared to read short stories, if that is all I could lay my hands on. Boy, am I glad that I finally got over my silly hang ups around short stories and read Steven Saylor’s A Gladiator Dies Only Once.

The stories are set between 77BC (after the events of the first book in the Roma Sub Rosa series Roman Blood) and 64BC, when Gordianus the Finder moves to his Etruscan farm. It introduces a host of Roman characters whom we don’t meet in the full length novels – all of whom interesting in their own unique ways. A consul’s wife, a rebel general, an aging censor, gladiators all engaged in a variety of nefarious activities ranging from attempted murder, plain old fraud to rebellion and sedition. The book shines because of the author’s attention to the details of Roman food habits, the minutiae of fish farms, gladiator schools and gymnasiums. The stories themselves are set in a wide variety of locations across Italy and even Spain,  and take us well beyond Rome to better understand the empire and its people – citizens, senators and freedmen, gladiators and slaves.

The stories vary in length from a short mystery set in Gordianus’ own home, to the longest story (from which the book derives its title), which clearly seems to imply that gladiators don’t die only once. Do they? For even those who are not familiar with Steven Saylor’s excellent Roma Sub Rosa  series, this book can be a great introduction to not just Rome at the end of the Republic but to a great detective still evolving early in his career – driven by “human’s insatiable longing to see the truth” as Cicero puts it:

Natura inest in mentibus nostris insatiabilis quaedam cupiditas veri videndi


2 thoughts on “Gladiator Dies Only Once

  1. Pingback: Books of October | Mystery in History

  2. Pingback: Sports and Historical Mysteries | Mystery in History

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