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The Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits


Publishing Information:

The 526 page Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley, with an introduction by Steven Saylor, was published by Carrol & Graf in 2003. ISBN 0786712414

Book Introduction:

In a very interesting history of the genre, Steven Saylor explains that in 1987 there was no Roman crime fiction on the book shelves, although there had been an occasional foray into the field in previous decades, but then he and Lindsey Davis [sadly missing from Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits] started producing, and soon others joined in. Impetus was given to the genre by the movie "Gladiator."

Authors Selected:

In Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits, you'll find stories by Tom Holt, Steven Saylor, Michael Jecks, Allen deFord, John Maddox Roberts, Marilyn Todd, Philip Boast, Simon Scarrow, Michael Kurland, Jane Finnis, Caroline Lawrence, Anonymous, Darrell Schweitzer, Jean Davidson, Rosemary Rowe, R. H. Stewart, Wallace Nichols, Gillian Bradshaw, Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, and Peter Tremayne.

Time Period:

Tom Holt, the first writer, known for fantasy novels with time travel, starts the volume with a story set in 202 B.C. in the Second Punic War. The following few stories are set in the time of Caesar. Then come Octavian (Augustus), Nero, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, Trajan, and Hadrian, then on to Roman Britain at the end of the second century, then back to Rome under the emperor Caracalla, then the fourth century, then the reign of Justinian, and a final mystery after the Fall of Rome.


For Roman mystery fans, The Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits is a must-have. For other readers it may not be worth it. Mystery fans will want to meet new historical Roman mystery writers and see some of the old favorites in any form. Newcomers may find the ancient worlds created by each of these writers confusing. So much detail has to be conveyed and many of the stories, being set in the military world, wind up sounding the same. Short story collections written by one writer permit the world to be created bit by bit, but when you get only one taste of each writer, and then have to move on, it's too easy to get lost. In addition, short stories have a limited space in which to deliver a punch, which can be hard for a novelist who is used to a broader canvas. This is offset somewhat by treats like Gillian Bradshaw and Steven Saylor, and the charming young adult puzzle writer Caroline Lawrence who wrote "Bread and Circuses." Theft was the topic of her story, solved by a group of school children who learn about the Roman system of bread distribution. "The Missing Centurion" is an anonymous story thought to have been written during the Victorian era, which is interesting from the perspective of seeing how language and writing styles have changed.

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