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in association with Amazon.com, click hereAll Roads Lead to Murder:
A Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger
By Albert A. Bell Jr.

Pliny and Tacitus as sleuths? Better believe it!  They met in Syria and are on their way home after having finished their respective tours of duty, Pliny as a military tribune, Tacitus on the governor's staff. Due to Pliny's aversion to sea travel, they take the land route. Stopping over in Smyrna, they are met by the – especially grisly – murder of a travel companion, Lucius Cornutus.

Pliny, young, impetuous, and – in the words of the author – slightly priggish, is nonetheless conscientious and takes command of the investigation until Florus, the governor of Asia Province, can be summoned. A bit unwillingly, Tacitus is drawn into this too.

Albert Bell tells us that he has studied Pliny since his graduate days. His portrait is a convincing one, and he does spin a good yarn too! There is a confusing array of suspects:  Roman notables who were fellow staffers of Tacitus and the murdered man, a Romanized German merchant, a philosopher, a Greek doctor, a group of women led by a “wild-haired witch,” a couple of Christians, beautiful slave women… Pliny has his work cut out for him. Not present, but looming in the background, is Regulus, an infamous advocate and legacy hunter back in Rome.

At the center of the story is a young and beautiful slave girl of the deceased, who seems to have had a mysterious relationship with her late master. And Pliny is more than taken with her. Being young and impulsive, he does not always weigh his actions, which gets him and Tacitus into a scrape or two and sets back his investigation.

On the other hand, Pliny profits from the knowledge of medicine and natural history, imparted to him by his late uncle and adoptive father, Pliny the Elder. The latter's military doings in Judaea – presumed by the author – also play a part in the story. Woven into all this is the ascent of Christianity, on which Mr. Bell is as much an expert as on Pliny.

The story, as told by Pliny himself, is full of suspense – and plenty of red herrings. At what point was Cornutus killed? Did the killer commit the hideous mutilation, or was there more than one person involved? How will Florus, the governor, react to young Pliny's investigation? After all, the boy is only twenty-one years of age! The alert reader, guided by Pliny's descriptions and hints, will arrive at the same conclusion as the narrator well before the dénouement, but it really doesn't matter. Mr. Bell has done his research well and does make the characters and their world utterly believable.

In the end, it seems that “all's well that ends well.” Or does it? Complications surely await Pliny in Rome. Mr. Bell promises us a series, and this reviewer for one looks eagerly forward to the next installment!

Irene Hahn

© 2002 Irene B. Hahn

Reviewer's Note: Mr. Bell is also the author of Daughter of Lazarus which features Pliny too. See review.

Mr. Bell's Website
Another view on the book by N.S. Gill on About.com, with Pliny links!


All Roads Lead to Murder:
A Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger

By Albert A. Bell Jr.
Illustrated with drawings by William Martin Johnson
from the first edition of Ben Hur by Lew Wallace
Hard Cover, 246 Pages
ISBN: 097130453X
High Country Publishers, Ltd., Boone, NC 2002
List Price US$21.95
Daughter of Lazarus
by Albert A. Bell Jr.
An Author Guild Backinprint.com Edition
Paperback, 300 pages
ISBN: 0595007295
iUniverse.com (August 2000)
List Price $17.95

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