This is a collection of short stories centering around Gordianus the Finder, Saylor's Ancient Roman "detective" first featured in his novel, *Roman Blood.* Chronologically, these stories fall within the eight years separating the first novel and the second, *Arms of Nemesis.* The collection is useful in finding out what has happened in Gordianus's life in the interim (and some events which will come into play in later novels): how Gordianus met his noble friend Lucius Claudius and Belbo the bodyguard; how he decided to adopt Eco; watching Eco grow up from age 10 to 18; how Gordianus first met Catilina (featured in novel #3, *Catilina's Riddle*). There are some nice character details, such as a taste of young Gordianus during his days in Alexandria; another story which allows slave-concubine, Bethesda, to solve a mystery; and a tale (told by Bethesda) about an Egyptian king, a thief and a courtesan which may explain why Gordianus sometimes says he's not sure if he picked Bethesda for his concubine or she picked him.
The stories range from simple fables to interesting mysteries and all are enjoyable--sometimes amusing, sometimes tragic, sometimes both at once. Their chief attraction for me was how they advanced the character development for the series as a whole. I like Saylor a great deal, but it is frustrating that there are such large time gaps between his novels. There's an even larger gap (nine years) between *Arms of Nemesis* and the third book, *Catilina's Riddle,* and so far nothing like *The House of the Vestals* to bridge that gap. This novel series is otherwise remarkable and entertaining, and I can only hope that Saylor will produce another collection of bridging stories soon for those of us who like to watch story and character unfold gradually.