Steven Saylor is a Texan born in 1956 who studied history and classics at the University of Texas in Austin. Who says a liberal arts graduate can't make good? Before he was able to retire on earnings from his novels, he worked as a newspaper editor, literary agent, and autobiographical essayist.
Although the Roma Sub Rosa series is what made him famous, he has also published seven erotic novels under the pen name Aaron Travis-including some set in Ancient Rome (no big surprise there). He also published two more contemporary novels, A Twist at the End: A Novel of O.Henry and Have You Seen Dawn?
Saylor's Gordianus books have now been translated into English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Czech, Russian, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Polish.
Steven Saylor called the books featuring Gordianus the Roma Sub Rosa series. He explains it thus: "In Ancient Egypt, the rose was the emblem of the god Horus, later regarded by the Greeks and Romans as the god of silence. The custom developed of hanging a rose over a council table to indicate that all present were sworn to secrecy. "SUB ROSA" (under the rose) has come to mean that which is carried out in secret. Thus ROMA SUB ROSA means a secret history of Rome or a history of Rome's secrets, revealed through the eyes of Gordianus."
One of the unusual elements of these books is the years in which they are set. Unlike most serial mystery novelists, the books do not follow one year after the other. Instead, long periods of time pass between the end of one novel and the beginning of another. They coincide with large-scale historical events, rather than a slavish devotion to a publisher's book-a-year schedule.
The books currently in the series are:
Roman Blood is the story of a man accused of patricide. We meet Cicero and Sulla, and learn of the tribulations of Rome under the dictatorship.
Arms of Nemesis covers the slave revolt of Spartucus, though on a more microscopic level, with Gordianus investigating a murder lest the entire household of slaves be put to death. This book remains my favorite in the series.
Catalina's Riddle is one of the most political books up to this point in the series. We see the revolt of Catalina and how Gordianus' family is embroiled in it.
The Venus Throw sees Saylor returning to the more mystery, intensely personal style of his first two books. Much is revealed in this book and Gordianus faces yet another crisis in value.
A Murder on the Appian Way covers the strife in Rome that follows the murder of Clodius and Milo's trial. Gordianus is hired to find out the truth, and ends up fighting those who would rather keep it hidden.
The House of the Vestals is a collection of short stories, some good, some mediocre. They cover an 8-year period and fill in some of the gaps between the novels.
Rubicon coincides with (big surprise) Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon. Gordianus' sons and son-in-law have become intricately involved in ways that threaten civil war in their family as well as the country. Yet, this is a family that loves each other deeply and all make sacrifices before this book ends.
Last Seen in Massila has Gordianus investigating the death/disappearance of his own son. It is a heart-rending novel and Gordinius is forced to make difficult choices between his morals and those he loves.
A Mist of Prophecies is the ninth novel in the series and involves Gordianus investigating the death of the seeress, Cassandra.
The Judgment of Caesar is due to be released in 2004.
There is also a collection of short stories called House of the Vestals, which includes many of the works Saylor published in mystery magazines and anthologies. --B. Redman