Title: A Gladiator’s Tale (Leonidas the Gladiator Mysteries Book Two)

Publisher: JA/AG Publishing

Author: Ashley Gardner

Pages: 258pp

Price: $9.99 / $3.99

Rome. AD 63. Nero sits on the throne, and Leonidas the former gladiator is eking out an existence as a bodyguard and occasional investigator. When his former trainer comes to him with news that some of his gladiators have gone missing, Leonidas assumes they are just out celebrating and will come staggering home. But he takes on the case, anyway. … And then the first body appears, in pieces, dressed up in gladiatorial armor. And then the second body. And then Nero himself takes an interest, and Leonidas has no choice but to find the murderer … or Nero will do it for him ….

I first discovered the Leonidas the Gladiator series in a collection of free short stories. I loved it, and was thrilled when Gardner continued the series with full length novels. The first, Blood of a Gladiator, went back and introduced the characters, exploring how Leonidas won his freedom, met Cassia, and started looking into things that he shouldn’t. The newest novel follows the continuing evolution in their relationship, Leonidas’ reluctant acceptance of his new status as a fixer, the harsh realities of life as a gladiator, and the complexities and dangers of Roman politics.

The mystery constructed by Gardner is intriguing, and occasionally gruesome. There are red herrings aplenty, with lots of suspects. But just as fun as the mystery is the setting: this is Rome at its violent, decadent height. This is also a fully polytheistic society: there are temples, street shrines, and altars everywhere. Religious festivals are a central feature of the city calendar. A Gladiator’s Tale actually takes place during the Parentalia, a feast to honor the ancestors and mighty dead.

This is a terrific installment in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite mystery series. Highly recommended to fans of Gardner’s other historical mysteries, as well as fans of the Lotus Palace Mystery series by Jeannie Lin, The Egyptian Antiquities Murder by Sara Rosett, Death of an Eye by Dana Stabenow, and Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard.

[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]

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