Ancient Rome’s preeminent private eye plies his trade in nine reprints culled from the past ten years.
Between 77 and 64 b.c.e., Gordianus (The Judgment of Caesar, 2004, etc.) is in demand for a wide variety of cases. In “The White Fawn,” the most inventive of these tales, renegade general Quintus Sertorius demands that Gordianus recover the missing deer that he insists advises him in warfare. Decimus Brutus wants him to investigate his wife Sempronia, whom he suspects of adultery and murderous plotting in “The Consul’s Wife.” Gordianus investigates murder in “Archimedes’ Tomb” and the more ingenious “Death by Eros,” an apparent return from the grave in “A Gladiator Dies Only Once,” and what looks like copyright infringement in “Something Fishy in Pompeii.” In “The Cherries of Lucullus,” the retired consul wants him to prove, against all evidence, that his gardener is really an escaped Roman rebel leader. And a beloved toy of his son Eco goes mysteriously missing in the charming “If a Cyclops Could Vanish in the Blink of an Eye.”
Unlike Lawrence Block, Saylor is not equally at home in short stories and novels, and none of these mysteries is very mysterious—“Poppy and the Poisoned Cake” is perhaps the most anticlimactic—yet they all engagingly evoke the last days of the Roman Republic and show the often tumultuous domestic lives of Gordianus’ lofty real-life acquaintances.