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by Albert A. Bell Jr
High Country Publishers Ltd, October 2002
246 pages
ISBN: 097130453X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I admire a writer who's willing to take risks with a character. Albert Bell's historical mystery featuring Pliny the Younger presents a rather annoying prig of a man. And the infuriating thing is that you agree with him, because he's right -- but he's just so darn preachy about it all.

Pliny is traveling in a caravan back to Rome when one of his fellow travelers is found murdered in his room at the inn where they have stopped. It's not a clear-cut death, and while Pliny is not a magistrate, his status and his name (his uncle/adoptive father was well-respected) allow him to investigate. Pliny uneasily realizes that one of his fellow travelers could have committed the crime.

Tied into the main story is the interesting history of very early Christianity, but Pliny's too-naive reaction on eavesdropping on a "ritual" of this "cult" struck me as coy. I can't believe an educated man never heard of symbolism, especially in ritual practices.

Bell makes the mistake of offering far too much information; the book often spend pages being "teachy" as Pliny goes on and on about life after death or customs. It is important for a reader to understand the setting, but the author needs to polish his presentation so that he's not offering what my friends in science fiction refer to as "the expository lump". He has crafted a well-designed mystery story, with a number of solid suspects, although the villain is always pretty obvious and the denouement scene is a standard set-up. I do not mean to sound condescending -- this author has promise, and if he can showİrather than tell , it will make his next book go from "okay" to something more like "very good".

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, May 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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