A Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger
By Albert A Bell, Jr
High Country Publishers Ltd - October 2002
ISBN 097130453X HB
Mystery / Historical Crime
AD 83, Smyrna

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde, MyShelf.Com
Buy a US || UK Copy

There are lots of historical whodunits around with a Roman setting, and most of them are set during the 1st century. This is one of them, but it seems to one of the best. I do hope that it is the first book in a long series.

Pliny the Younger and his friend Tacitus are returning to Rome after serving in Syria for a year with the Roman legions. For safety, they are traveling in a large group of assorted people and when the book opens they have just arrived at an inn in Smyrna. Soon after witnessing a slave girl spill wine over her irascible master, Lucius Cornutus, the man is found murdered, his heart cut out of his body. It is up to Pliny to assume command until the governor arrives and find out whodunit - but he has his work cut out for him.

This novel is blessed with a teasing plot and some lively characters, but even this is not its chief strength. Like Steven Saylor, this author has the ability to get under the skin of Ancient Rome and as Pliny tells us the story in his own words, it all comes to sparkling life, unrolling like some bright tapestry. Too many novels set in Ancient Rome point out the similarities between their way of life and ours - apartment blocks, dinner parties, the dole, baths, central heating, noisy politics - and fail to point out the vast gulf that separates people of today with those of 2000 years ago. In Bell's book, a slave is merely a possession, life is very uncertain and even somebody like Pliny has to put up at a filthy inn. He comes over as a pleasant person, but a man of his time - dislikes wanton cruelty but isn't anti-slavery, distrusts the Christians and is skeptical about his own gods. This novel makes the ancient world a living, breathing entity but never fails to remind us on every page that a vast chasm separates us from them, 200 years ago. This is a real historical novel!

© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved