Steven Saylor's Ancient Habit

Steven Saylor's series of mysteries set in ancient Rome is one of the best mystery series being published today.

Steven Saylor will be at BookPeople on Thursday, May 30, at 7pm.
Steven Saylor will be at BookPeople on Thursday, May 30, at 7pm.

Two years ago, Simon & Schuster published Steven Saylor's mystery A Twist at the End: A Novel of O. Henry, which took Austin's Servant Girl Annihilator murders of the 1880s and re-imagined them in a historically accurate but particularly ingenious fashion while throwing the young Texas dandy O. Henry into the mix (a mix of bloody axes and Guy Town whores, for starters). It was the first time that some mystery readers had come across Saylor because the name "Saylor" usually appears on book jackets above titles like Roman Blood and A Murder on the Appian Way. Hopefully Saylor's successful leap into the 19th century prompted his readers to join him in ancient Rome, where the great majority of his mysteries are set. Mysteries set in ancient Rome: The concept seems a little freaky, maybe too nerdy to be entirely tasteful and legit, but those who pass over Saylor's Roman books are missing out on one of the best mystery series being published today. Saylor's ability to make readers feel as if they are "rubbing elbows with the ancients" is "quite uncanny," as The New York Times Book Review has observed, and although Saylor's mastery of Roman history is clearly prodigious, his mysteries bear no trace of historical showmanship or pedantry. His sleuth, Gordianus the Finder, is an utterly fascinating and mysterious figure, a shadowy intimate of Cicero and Caesar who, as his regular order of business, investigates the lowlifes untouchable by those noblemen.

A Mist of Prophecies (St. Martin's, $24.95), the ninth and latest entry in Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series, is about the strange and seemingly untraceable life of Cassandra, a woman with no known past or family (a decided disadvantage in ancient Rome) who had the envied but nonetheless unfortunate ability to see into the future (and to foresee her own death -- by poisoning). She's dead on page one of this compelling book, which takes place in 48 B.C. during the height of the Roman Civil War, as Caesar and Pompey are waging their turf war to decide who will control Rome. A pitch-perfect work like A Mist of Prophecies is what you get when an author has spent as much time as Saylor has honing the voice of his sleuth and re-creating a world usually elucidated in textbooks rather than this gripping prose.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More by Clay Smith
The Insider's Outsider Guide to Texas
The Insider's Outsider Guide to Texas
Remembering Bud Shrake

May 15, 2009

SXSW Film
Barlow the Ubiquitous
Daily Reviews and Interviews

March 20, 2009

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Steven Saylor

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle