Ancient Roman Holiday

This collection of short stories about Gordianus the Finder, the Philip Marlow of the Roman Empire, shows how a fine hand at historical research can enliven the most traditional and well-tilled of genres.

Because these tales of murder, fraud and revenge would sound familiar to those who have read enough short stories, but Saylor has recast these stories with personalities, attitudes and customs that are foreign to us, and read much fresher than they would otherwise. Take for instance there’s the story of the wealthy man’s son who attempts to emulate Julius Caesar’s arrogant behavior when he was captured by pirates. Gordianus is hired to deliver the ransom. It is easy to tell who instigated the kidnaping and why, but the story still compels us follow the thread to the end.

It helps that Gordianus is a compelling character, a man who makes a living investigating the dark side of the Roman Republic, when Julius Caesar was still a politician aspiring to become a divine dictator. He is aided sometimes by Bethesda, his Egyptian slave who sometimes acts more like his wife. Even his mute adopted son, Eco, plays a crucial role in the story of the actor murdered backstage during a performance.

The Roman era has been well-served by writers such as Saylor and Lindsay Davis. For those interested in the era who haven’t made Gordianus’ acquaintance, this book offers an ideal introduction.