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The Roman Mysteries of Caroline Lawrence

This is a series of mysteries set in Roman times and featuring four children. It is a large series and is therefore being given a file to itself. The first books in the series are suitable for the 8-12 age group but some of the later books are more suitable for an older age group like 10-14.

The Roman Mysteries. The Thieves of Ostia, Caroline Lawrence, Orion, 2001, £6.99, Hardback, 195 pages. ISBN 1-84255-079-9


This is the first book in a series of mysteries set in Ancient Rome.

In this, the first book of the series, the four main characters are all introduced and firmly established and hints are dropped as to their future developement.
First there is the driving force behind the four, Flavia Gemina, the daughter of a sea-captain. Flavia is rescued from wild dogs by Jonathan, a boy of her own age who has recently come to live next door. Jonathan's family are Jews and it is only half way through the book that we discover that they have recently become Christians.

Flavia and Jonathan both have families which are relatively well off and they both live in comfortable houses, but the other two members of the quartet are not so fortunate. Nubia is a slave girl who is rescued from the slave market and given to Flavia as a birthday present. And the two girls soon become friends. Lupus is a beggar boy. He cannot speak as someone has cut out his tongue.

Right from the start we are given clues as to the future developement of the series. Jonathan and Christianity. That will probably be worked into a future story. And what is Nubia's story? No doubt the full details will be filled in later. Meanwhile Nubia has one special talent. She has a very special relationship with animals and, even in this first book, she puts that gift to good use when she calms the wild dogs. As for Lupus, who cut out his tongue and why? Like l Nubia Lupus is also exceptionally gifted. He is an excellent artist. He makes up for his lack of speech by drawing what he sees in wax with a stylus.

In this book a thief is killing dogs and cutting their heads off. Why? And who is doing this? Flavia is determined to find out and she cajoles her friends into helping her.

Ostia was the port for Rome and there is a map of Ostia at the front, also plans of the houses of Flavia and Jonathan. I was very glad to see these. The children's adventures can be followed exactly on the map and it really brings the town to life. Likewise with the plans of the houses showing clearly the division between the atrium at the front and the rooms and garden behind. Caroline Lawrence has studied archaeology and it shows.

This book tends to paint a pleasant picture of Ancient Rome. The darker side is there -- in the characters of Nubia and Lupus and in the living conditions of the widow of Avitus. But it is the comfortable lifestyles of Flavia and Jonathan which are brought to the front.

Nevertheless this is a well researched book with a detailed and authentic background which still moves at a rapid and exciting pace. It is a book which should appeal to animal lovers as well as history fans.

The chapters are called scrolls, and there are two extra at the end. One is actually a glossary and the other is a note on the background. There is also a foretaste of what is to come. The four friends are sent to spend the summer with an uncle of Flavia's in Pompeii and the second book in the series is called The Secrets of Vesuvius. It will be worth waiting for.

10+

The Secrets of Vesuvius, Caroline Lawrence, Orion, 2001, £6.99, Hardback. 213 pages. ISBN 1-84255-080-2

This is the second in the Roman Mysteries series about ten-year-old Flavia Gemina and her three friends.

This is one of these books where the reader knows more than the characters.

Flavia and her friends are to spend the summer at the farm of her Uncle Gaius. His farm is just south of Pompeii. They arrive and settle down and then there is a series of disturbing events. There are tremors and minor earthquakes. This reminds Uncle Gaius of an earthquake years ago when a whole flock of sheep was killed by the smell of sulphur. Then when spending a day in Pompeii a soothsayer prophecies "Doom, Death, Desolation." Later, back on the farm the dogs all howl at night and all the mice and rats migrate in the direction of the sea.

All very alarming and puzzling. Well puzzling to the characters but not to the readers who all know what all this is leading up to. The eruption of Vesuvius.
But before that expected event young Roman detective Flavia has plenty to occupy her active brain. Early in the book she helps, and becomes the friend of, the Roman admiral and scholar Pliny. Pliny gives her a puzzle to solve. In Pompeii there is a blacksmith's workshop and on the wall is a piece of graffiti. But what does it mean? Flavia tracks the blacksmith down and solves the riddle, which is about a "treasure." The blacksmith, Vulcan, comes to stay and work at her uncle's farm for a while.

Then more puzzles for Flavia. What is the treasure? Who are Vulcan's parents? And who is the secret admirer of the elder sister of her friend Jonathan? More than enough to keep our young detective occupied.

The story moves on to the expected climax and the eruption of Vesuvius. Do Flavia and her friends all manage to escape? Here the youngest member of the quartet, Lupus, performs a particularly brave act and covers himself in glory.

This is a well constructed detective story which has the same authentic and well researched background as The Thieves of Ostia. The story moves between the farm of Gaius and the town of Pompeii. And when Vesuvius finally erupts we can almost feel the falling ash and smell the sulphur.

I particularly liked the map of the Bay of Naples and the plans of Uncle Gaius' farm, and also of a wealthy family's villa. There is also a glossary of Roman words.

A book which holds the interest and also provides much information about Roman life.
8-12

The Pirates of Pompeii, Caroline Lawrence, Orion Children's Books, 2002, £6.99. Hardback. 198pages. ISBN 1-84255-202-3

This is the third book in the series about Flavia Gemina and her three friends - and it follows on directly from the second book , The Secrets of Vesuvius.
Many people who escaped the eruption of Vesuvius fled south and a huge refugee camp was set up on the beach. Flavia and her friends are among these fugitives, together with her uncle, her tutor, and Jonathan's father and sister.
Children start to go missing from the beach. What has happened to them? Have they been kidnapped? Flavia is determined to find out and she persuades the others to help her. There is one important and very wealthy man in the district. He is known simply as the 'Patron' and all Flavia's clues lead to him. He has a large villa built on a peninsula to the south.

Flavia has a plan to get herself into the villa. Felix -- the Patron -- visits her uncle in the camp and Flavia seizes her chance. She tells him how bad the ash is for Jonathan and his asthma, and also for Lucus, and Felix promptly invites the children to come and stay with him. There they find out all about the missing children but they also put themselves in great danger. Can they save the children or do they share their fate?

This book starts with a fascinating description of the refugee camp on the beach-- the tents, the makeshift hospital which Jonathan's father sets up in the baths, the funeral pyres, the bodies washed up by the tide, the fishing boats drawn up on the beach, the visit of the Emperor Vespasian, and always the thin ash swirling around, it is all there.

Then the scene changes as the children go south to the Villa Limona and the Patron. Here the descriptions are, at first, almost idyllic. There is the large comfortable villa on its peninsula. Behind it the hills are covered by olive groves and, higher up, pines.

But this is just the first impression. This series has always tended to emphasise the better side of Roman life as it concentrates on the comfortable lives led by middle class Flavia and Jonathan. But once in the Villa Limona the darker side of Ancient Rome starts to manifest itself. The Patron's daughter is very cruel to her personal slave, something which horrifies Flavia who has always treated Nubia as a friend.

Then the story starts to take a sinister turn. In the aftermath of the eruption bands of escaped slaves are hiding out in the mountains. One of them is from Nubia's own country. He makes contact with her and asks her to join him. After what she has seen in the villa Limona Nubia is tempted but she knows something of the risks. She knows that if, caught, escaped slaves can be crucified. She does not know exactly what this means but she does know it is something dreadful.

Like the earlier books in the series, The Pirates of Pompeii, is well researched. Caroline Lawrence has degrees in Classical Archaeology and Hebrew and Jewish Studies so she knows her background well. The Villa Limona is based on a villa in a contemporary poem. Again the book comes with a historical note and a glossary.

But all this scholarship does not stop the Pirates of Pompeii being a riveting read. In fact I think it is the best of the series up until now.
8-12

The Assassins of Rome, Caroline Lawrence, Orion Children's Books, 2002, £6.99, hardback, 209pp, ISBN 1-84255-225-2


This is the fourth in the series of Roman mysteries featuring Flavia Gemina and her friends Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus. In this book we learn more about Jonathan and his family.

It is Jonathan's eleventh birthday and he has a surprise visitor, his Uncle Simeon. His visit puts the whole family in danger because he is believed to be an assassin and the Roman authorities are looking for him. But Simeon says he is not really an assassin but a messenger. The next day Jonathan's sister, Miriam rushes over to Flavia's house in tears. Her father has been arrested on suspicion of harbouring an assassin and her brother has disappeared. They find out that Jonathan has gone to Rome -- probably with Simeon. Flavia takes Nubia and a big slave as a bodyguard, and follows him to Rome. From then on the pace is fast and furious and the story has many tangled threads to be unwoven.

Jonathan has always believed his mother to be dead but now he discovers she is alive but one of the Emperor's slaves. He sets out to find her but his uncle's disguise is discovered and they are both captured. Jonathan is branded as a slave but Simeon's fate is going to be worse. He is going to have his eyes put out and his toes cut off. Although Jonathan does not know it at the time his mother is also in danger because the assassins have been sent, not to kill the Emperor, but to kill her.

Does Flavia manage to thwart the assassins? Do Jonathan, his father and uncle regain their freedom? And is Jonathan re-united with his mother? All is resolved in the end.

As well as providing an exciting story this book contains much factual detail about the sack of Jerusalem and the Jewish religion -- as well as about Ancient Rome.

The earlier books in this series were aimed at the eight to twelve age group but I feel that this book is for a slightly older age range. I would put it ten to fourteen.

A good story with an informative and authentic background.

10 - 14


The Dolphins of Laurentum, Caroline Lawrence,Orion Children's books, 2003, £7.99, hardback, 214 pages, ISBN 1-84255-223-6


This is the fifth in the Roman Mystery series featuring Flavia Gemina and her three friends. In it the reader learns how Lupus came to lose his tongue.

In this book Flavia's sea captain father manages to struggle home. He has lost his ship and cargo in a storm. Then representatives of the bankers arrive and demand repayment of a loan. If he cannot pay Captain Geminus could well lose his home. But at least there is someone willing to try to help. The nephew of Pliny invites the four children to come and stay at his villa on the coast at Laurentum. He wants to find out about the last days of his famous uncle.

So Flavia and her friends go to stay at Laurentum while the adults try to sort something out. Once there they find that there is a sunken ship off the coast -- a ship which was carrying gold coins. If they could recover the treasure then Flavia's house would be saved. Lupus, on the other hand, has his own private reasons for wanting a share of the gold. He has heard that the evil Venalicius has been able to bribe his way to freedom. If Lupus could gain a share of the treasure then he could afford to hire an assassin to kill Venalicius.

But the wreck is sunk in water so deep that no diver can reach it. Then it turns out that Lupus can dive as his father was a sponge diver. So the children make their own plans to recover the treasure.

But free diving is dangerous. And as well as lying so deep the wreck is also guarded by a huge octopus. Is it worth Lupus risking his life for? And then revenge can have a terrible effect on the person taking it. Does Lupus learn this lesson in time?

And how does it happen that it is Flavia herself who finds a way of paying her father's debts?

Finally, what part do the dolphins of the title play in all this?

Like the earlier books in the series, this is a gripping story with a well-researched background. In particular there is much detail about diving.

Comes with a map, a diagram of the villa and a glossary.

8-12

The Roman Mysteries. The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina, Caroline Lawrence, Orion, 2003, £7.99, hardback, 213 pages. ISBN 1-84255-240-6

This is the sixth book about Flavia and her three friends. In this book Flavia begins to grow up a little.

Flavia has a confrontation with her father. He tells her that she is becoming far too independent, places several restrictions on her and tells her it is time to think of her betrothal.

Flavia wonders what has caused such a sudden change in her father. She can think of only one reason. It must be Cartilia, the widow who hopes to marry him, who has put such ideas into her father's mind. Flavia senses another mystery here. Why is Cartilia so reluctant to talk about her first husband? Flavia is determined to solve this puzzle too. If she can find out something to Cartilia's discredit then the marriage may never take place. Flavia does eventually discover Cartilia's secret but she also learns far more about herself - such as that her friends think that she is bossy. She also learns not to judge people too quickly while at the same time trying to cope with the pangs of first love. At the end of the book Flavia has gradually come to accept many things, including a tragedy.

In this book Flavia's plans for her detecting come to her in a dream about Hercules. She believes that this dream was sent to her specially and various clues will come to her if she thinks about the twelve tasks of Hercules. Hence the title. It provides a framework for the book but it seems rather contrived at times.

Like all the other books in the series, this one is set against a meticulously researched background -- particularly the midwinter Roman festival of Saturnalia. But there is also detail about, for example, the Roman baths, the plague and a Jewish wedding.

Comes with a glossary ('Aristo's Scroll') and historical notes ('The Last Scroll')

8 -- 12

The Enemies of Jupiter, Caroline Lawrence, Orion Children's Books, 2003, £7.99, hardback, 215 pages, ISBN 1-84255-251-1

This is the seventh in the Roman Mysteries series about Flavia Gemina and her three friends. This book is slightly different from the rest of the series. The other books are all stand-alones while this one is really part one of a two part story and the ending leads directly to the next book.

In Rome thousands are dying from the plague. The Emperor Titus hears that Dr Mordecai has saved many patients in Ostia and so he sends for him to come to Rome. The Emperor also asks for Flavia and her friends to come too as he has a mystery for them to solve. When they arrive in Rome Titus tells them that he had a dream in which the god Jupiter visited him and told him 'When a Prometheus opens a Pandora's box, Rome will be devastated.' Can the four young detectives find the answer to this riddle and save Rome?

Flavia, Nubia and Lupus set to work but Jonathan is not interested. He is intent on his own mission. Most people, including his father, think that his mother is dead. But Jonathan knows that that is not true. His mother is alive and a slave in Titus' palace. Jonathan wants her to come home so that they can all be a real family again but she refuses. She is convinced that her husband will never forgive her for refusing to leave Jerusalem with him. She insists that she must atone for her sins. She hopes to do this by helping Titus to be a better ruler.

Jonathan schemes to find a way to bring his parents together. In fact it was actually Jonathan who engineered the Emperor's invitation in the first place.

But Jonathan's plots all go horribly wrong and he brings upon himself the wrath of the Emperor and the disappointment of his parents. Even worse he places his mother in danger. Distraught and devastated Jonathan runs from the palace and through the streets of Rome. He is found by the person the rest were looking for -- the Prometheus. And high above Rome, in the temple of Jupiter, Jonathan struggles for his life against a fanatic who is intent on setting Rome on fire.

At the end, feeling he has let his parents down and caused the fire in which many people died, Jonathan voluntarily puts himself in great danger.

In some ways, although about ancient times this book has a curiously modern touch. There is Jonathan desperately trying to bring his family together again. His position is not really so different from that of many children from broken homes today. And then there is the crazed fanatic jumping to his death over the cliff -- reminiscent of today's suicide bombers.

Like all the other books in this series The Enemies of Jupiter is well researched and has much detail about Ancient Rome -- in this case particularly about the different methods practised by various doctors. There are historical notes and a glossary.

Shows something of the darker side of Ancient Rome.

10+

The Gladiators from Capua, Caroline Lawrence, Orion Children's Books, 2004, £7.99. hardback, 214 pages, ISBN 0-84255 -252 - X

This is the eighth in the Roman Mysteries series. Although part of a series, until now all the books have been stand-alones. But this one follows on directly from The Enemies of Jupiter and the two are best read as one book.

Flavia and Nubia, along with Jonathan's parents, believe that he died in the Roman fire. Then Lupus hears soldiers talking about a curly haired boy and he begins to wonder if Jonathan could still be alive. So the friends decide to try to find out.

As in all books featuring young detectives -- irrespective of time and place -- the author has to find some way of getting rid of the supervising adults. This is done very neatly in this case. Flavia wangles an invitation from her uncle to come and stay in Rome for the hundred days of games being held by the Emperor Titus to open his new amphitheatre. Her uncle is staying only for the first day of the Games and then he is going to take his family to the country so Flavia and her friends will be left in the care of a few slaves.

The three friends arrive and spend the first day of the games with their aunt at the top level of the amphitheatre -- the part for women and children. Then, when their aunt and uncle depart the three young detectives split up and, in so doing, make sure that readers get a comprehensive and overall view of the games. (Later the children even receive an invitation to the Imperial box). Nubia meets again the animal trainer Mnason and gets a pass to the part where the animals are housed. Lupus disguises himself as a slave and works among the prisoners' cells while Flavia finds herself in the flooded arena swimming for her life among crocodiles and hippos.

Sadly today gladiators and the Roman games tend to be treated lightly in films, TV game shows and computer games. But here Caroline Lawrence does something to redress the balance and readers are shown the utter cruelty and savagery of the games. And she brings out a few other points too -- especially the fact that the gladiators were being forced to kill their own friends and companions. They all lived together in a large building and trained together, ate together and laughed together and then, in the arena, a gladiator could be compelled to kill his best friend.

There is also the point about the effect of all this brutality on the watchers. The real reason why Flavia's uncle takes his family to the country is because her Aunt Cynthia is so obsessed by her bloodlust.

Flavia and Nubia are appalled by the brutality right from the start but, at first, Lupus enjoys it. It is not until he sees his friend Jonathan alone in the arena with a man-eating lion that he begins to realise what all this barbarity really means.

As this book is intended for young readers Caroline Lawrence manages to convey the horror of the games without being too explicit. But even so she still manages to get the message across. In fact, for what age group is this book intended? The first books in the series were meant for children of eight to twelve but I would put this for a slightly older age range. In fact I would say that many adults could get a lot out of it too.

One interesting little point. For the first time readers are told something of the background of Caudex, the large slave and bodyguard of Flavia's father. He was captured in Britain, trained as a gladiator but was sold because he refused to kill. A broad hint that Caudex is going to pay a bigger role in future books in the series.

This book is very well researched. There are accounts of the games written by several Latin authors and many of the events in the Gladiators from Capua actually happened.

Comes with a short historical note and a glossary.

A thrilling story, which clearly illuminates the cruelty -- and the shame -- that was Rome.

10+

The Roman Mysteries: The Colossus of Rhodes, Caroline Lawrence, Orion, 2005, £8.99, hardback, £5.99, paperback, 212 pages, ISBN 1842552538

When he was dying, the uncle of Lupus, the wicked Venalicius, repented of all the evil he had done and he asked his nephew and his friends to try to find the free-born children he had kidnapped and enslaved.

Lupus had inherited his uncle’s ship which was refitted and given a new name –– the Delphina –– and a new captain, Flavia’s father. In the spring the ship sets sail and Flavia and her three friends are passengers. But Lupus has a secret mission of his own. He means to try to find his mother. The dogs are left in Ostia but Jonathan manages to smuggle Tigris aboard –– and later everyone is glad that he did.

There are pleasant scenes when the children’s shipboard routine is described but there is also a darker side to the voyage. Too many things go wrong as when the yardarm falls and nearly kills a passenger. Are all these things really accidents? Then Lupus goes to lie by himself in the small boat which is towed behind the Delphina. Someone unties it and Lupus is cast adrift. There is a traitor aboard.

Caroline Lawrence manages to weave much information into the actual fabric of the story as when we are shown how ships were dragged across the isthmus at Corinth. Then later when they reach Colossus we learn that the giant statue never straddled the harbour. Instead it was in the sanctuary on the highest peak before it collapsed in an earthquake. And this information also forms part of the story as the background for a thrilling chase as Lupus runs through the hollow arms when he is trying to escape from the slave traders.

Comes with maps and a plan of a Roman merchant ship. There is even a map showing the winds. There is also a glossary and a historical note.

A good story with a detailed and authentic background which is pleasanter than the last two with their setting of Nero’s Rome. But I did not like the part where they pulled the heads off the pigeons –– even if they were trying to get the traitor to reveal all at the time.

9 - 13

The Roman Mysteries: The Colossus of Rhodes, Caroline Lawrence, Orion, 2005, £8.99, hardback, £5.99, paperback, 212 pages, ISBN 1842552538

This story follows on directly from the last book -- The Colossus of Rhodes. They are staying for a short time near Corinth while on their way home from Rhodes. Then Captain Geminus is discovered stabbed -- and Aristo, the children's tutor, is found standing over his body. Aristo escapes from the vigiles (or watchmen) who are taking him into custody.

Is Aristo really the guilpty person. Flavia is convinced that he is but Nubia refuses to believe that.

At first it is thought that Captain Geminus has been murdered but he is not dead and the doctors manage to save him. And then it is found that he is suffering from amnesia. Flavia is convinced that Aristo has put a curse on her father and he must be found so that the curse can be removed. But the vigiles will not search for him as it is a private matter. So the four young friends decide to go after Aristo themselves. They are given the loan of a carruca or light carriage and four mules. One of the sailors from the Delphina, Attitus, accompanies them to act as both guide and bodyguard. Tigris, Jonathan's puppy, becomes their tracker dog.

Their quest takes them first to Delphi where they receive a cryptic message from the Oracle. Then on to Athens and the Acropolis where the climax is worked out and all the questions are finally answered.

The format of this story allows for plenty of scope for giving information about Greece in Roman times. There are the actual descriptions of the journey to Delphi as well as Delphi and Athens themselves. And the reader does not just have to rely on the descriptions as there are maps and also plans of Athens and the Acropolis to say nothing of the detailed plans of a carruca. Over and above all this there is a glossary and a historical note.

Like all the rest in The Roman Mystery series, The Fugitive from Corinth is an exciting story in its own right but it is also an example of the information story at its best.

What age group is this best suited to? Because of the many references to the story of Orestes and the questions raised about the subject of fraticide I would have reservations about it for really young children and so I would put it for the 10-14 age group.

10+

The Sirens of Surrentum, Caroline Lawrence, Orion Children’s Books, 2006, hardback, 259 pages, ISBN 1-84255-255-4

This is the eleventh book in the Roman Mysteries series about the young detective Flavia Gemina and her three friends.

This time the four young sleuths are invited to go and stay at the Villa Limona, the home of Felix Publius Pollius Felix. The large villa with its terraces and spacious grounds, is built on a small peninsula jutting out into the Bay of Naples and just south of Surrentum. Truly an idyllic place for a holiday. But evil and corruption lurk beneath the beautiful surface.

When they arrive Pulchra, The daughter of Felix, has another mystery for them. She suspects that her mother is being poisoned and she wants them to find out who is doing this. And some of the suspects are going to be staying at the Villa Limona too as three young bachelors and three young widows have also been invited.

Flavia and her friends begin to work. First they try to find out all they can about poisons. And then they begin to establish a motive. Felix is very attractive to women. Can the poisoner be a woman trying to poison his wife so that Felix can then marry her instead?

Here Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus make better progress in their investigations than Flavia. This is because Flavia has always believed herself in love with Felix and she does not want to discover the real truth about him. But eventually she learns that he is a serial adulterer. She becomes completely disillusioned and faces reality at last at the same time as she finds the unexpected solution to the mystery.

The question must be asked. Who are the intended readers of this book? When it first started this series was aimed at the eight to twelve age group. The series was also planned to be used in schools.

In this case the format of the book is for the nine to twelves. But the content is young adult if not actually adult. It is about a womaniser and an adulterer. And more than that. It shows similar debauched behaviour from others too –– as in the case of the baths at Baiae where men and women mix naked together. There is also the way in which all this is presented. For example one character says, A little bed-wrestling I think. Later Flavia hears what she thinks is a child crying. She follows the sound and finds that it is not a child crying with pain. It is a woman crying with pleasure.

Admittedly there is nothing too explicit and many children just will not understand what the book is about. But awkward questions can still be asked of parents and teachers. In any case do we really want our children to be thinking of matters like these? In Ancient Rome girls grew up quickly and childhood was short but today many of us believe that children should keep their innocence for a little longer.

This book certainly gives a true picture of certain facets of Ancient Rome with the details of different poisons and suicides but there are some features of Roman life which should be left until children are older.

As this series, up until now, has been largely aimed at the schools, teachers should be advised to read this book very carefully themselves before making any decision to use it with their pupils.

The maps at the beginning of the book are very useful. The plan of the Villa Limona enhances the descriptions. The reader can follow it and really imagine what it would be like to live there. There is also a historical note and a useful glossary.

The format of the book is for the 10-12 age group but the content is definitely young adult.

The Charioteer of Delphi, Caroline Lawrence, Orion Children’s Books, 2006, £8.99, hardback, 242 pages, ISBN 1-84255-256-2

This is the twelfth book in the Roman Mystery series.

In this book Flavia and her three friends go to Rome to stay with her uncle, the Senator Cornix and his family. The young detectives find a valuable racehorse which has been stolen. But no sooner than this mystery has been solved than they are plunged into another one. The chariot racers of Rome are divided into four factions –– the Reds, Blues, Whites and Greens. Dreadful ‘accidents’ start to befall the Greens. A frenzied horse bolts during a race and its charioteer is injured. There are other disastrous incidents. Then it is discovered that a lynchpin has been replaced with one of wax which melts during the race and causes a wheel to come off. These are no accidents. Someone wants to harm the Greens.

But why should anyone want to do this? Is it because of money and betting trickery? Or is there another reason? Who is doing it? And how? Flavia and her young detective friends set out to find the answers.

This is an exciting story which moves at a pace comparable with the races but at the same time it contains a great deal of information which just becomes part of the story. For example, after finding the stolen stallion the children are rewarded with gold. But the grateful trainer of the Greens also shows them around the stables and gives them passes to go and visit whenever they like. Later they attend the races with Uncle Cornix and his family and so the reader is given a detailed picture of the Circus Maximus. This is enhanced by the plan also given at the front of the book. There is also a very useful map of Rome and a diagram of a Roman quadriga, or four wheeled chariot, complete with four horses and charioteer.

There is also a glossary and a historical note.

Once again this book brings out the dreadful cruelty of the Ancient Romans. The chariot races are not nearly a brutal as the games in the arena, but nevertheless death and horrific injuries to both charioteers and horses are common. This has most effect on Nubia, the animal lover.

An exciting story which illuminates yet another facet of life in Roman Times. Highly recommended.

10-14

Trimalchio’s Feast and other mini Mysteries, Caroline Lawrence, Orion, 2007, £6.99, paperback, 1323 pages, ISBN 978-1—84255-593-4

An extra book in the Roman Mystery series. This is a book of short stories about Flavia, Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus filling I what the friends did between the main mysteries.

8-12

The Roman Mysteries: The Slave Girl from Jerusalem, Caroline Lawrence, Orion, 2007, £8.99, hardback, 224 pages, ISBN 978-1-84255-188-2

This is the thirteenth in the Roman Mysteries series.

Miriam, Jonathan’s sister, discovers an old friend –– Hephzibah. She wants Hephzibah to go and live with her and her husband and help with her baby which is due to be born soon. Then Hepzibah is accused of three murders. Flavia and her friends are determined to prove her innocence.

In many ways the plot of this book is more sensible than others in the series. This is because the adults play a bigger part in the search for clues and therefore the parts played by the children are more realistic. Traditionally writers of children’s books have been allowed a certain amount of poetic license in this respect –– particularly in the days of Enid Blyton but not so much nowadays – but in this book such license is not necessary.

The book is just packed with information about the Roman legal system –– the position of slaves, the ways in which slaves can be freed, the rights of freedman, the authority a master had over a slave as well as that of a father over a child. There is just as much information about the making and verifying of wills.

The last part of the book is taken up with the thrilling drama of Hephzibah’s trial. She is defended by Flavia’s old friend the young lawyer Flaccus. As well as the excitement the reader is provided with a detailed account of Roman trial procedure. Caroline Lawrence finds a good way of describing the prescribed gestures of an orator. Lupus finds one of Flaccus’s books on rhetoric and enjoys practising the gestures which also help to compensate for his lack of speech.

As well as being trickled into the story these facts are also illuminated in the diagrams at the front –– a map of Ostia, a plan of the basilica and pictures of the orator’s gestures. At the end there is an extensive glossary and a historical note.

As if this is not enough Hephzibah was one of the seven survivors of Masada and there is a short account of her experiences there.

This book is one of the best in the series. The writing is quite powerful in places. But there is one discordant note. One of the prosecution lawyers tries to blacken Aristo’s character and accuses him of visiting the girls of Venus. We can do without this kind of thing in a book which may be read by young children.

What age group is this book aimed at? The format is for the 8-12 group but the story and style of writing are definitely for 12+ if not teenage. In fact many teenagers who could benefit from this may be put off by the format.

A thrilling story backed up by meticulous historical detail. Recommended.

12+

The Roman Mysteries:The Beggar of Volubilis, Caroline Lawrence, Orion Children’s Books, 2007, £8.99, hardback, 253 pages, ISBN 978-1-84255-189-9

This is the fourteenth in the Roman Mysteries series.

In this book the Emperor Titus has another task for the four friends. He has heard a prophecy about a special jewel. Whoever has that gem will rule Rome for a long time. Titus is sending out several agents to try to find it –– and he has included the children because, being children, they can go many places where adults cannot.

This fits in with what Flavia wants herself. She has a private quest of her own. Her Uncle Gaius was devastated at the death of his wife in childbirth. It was believed he had drowned himself. Then Flavia hears that he had been seen boarding a ship bound for Sabathra –– which is where Titus is sending them. Flavia is determined to find her uncle.

Sabathra is on the coast of Africa almost directly south of Rome. The friends land there and begin their enquiries. Titus has arranged that they should sail from there eastwards through the Mediterranean and south down the Aftrican coast. That way they should have only a short overland journey to Volubilis (in modern Morocco) where Titus believes that the jewel may be among the treasures of Cleopatra. But things go wrong and the ship leaves without them. Flavia and her friends are left stranded in Sabathra. But after some initial panic they are taken on as members of a pantomime troupe who are travelling with a caravan to Volubilis. After an eventful journey during which they escape from slave traders and Flavia gets lost in the desert they finally arrive in Volubilis. They learn that a group of beast hunters is there. Is Gaius among them? He had left Ostia with beast hunters. They also learn the whereabouts of the jewel –– the emerald, Nero’s Eye. But are they able to steal it and get it back to Titus.? And who really is the filthy beggar dressed in rags and yet speaks cultured Latin and can read Latin and Greek?

This book illuminates yet another two facets of Ancient Rome. The beast hunters who went to North Africa to hunt for beasts for the arena and the pantomime dancers who were nothing like modern pantomime actors.

Comes with a glossary, a historical note, a map of North Africa, and full page diagrams of Roman coins and the theatre.

Brings out the beauty and the cruelty of northern Africa at that time.

Flavia explains the beauty. The sand sea at dusk with an oasis on the horizon and a crescent moon floating over the palms. Or as Jonathan puts it, The silence of the desert. And the stars at night. And the comforting swaying rhythm of the camels.

But there is also the cruelty of Africa with its slave traders.

10-14

The Scribes from Alexandria, Caroline Lawrence, Orion, 2008, £8.99, hardback, 259 pages, ISBN, 978-1-84255-190-5

This book follows on directly from the last in the Roman Mystery series –– The Beggar of Volubilis.

While on their way back to Ostia Flavia and her three friends are shipwrecked. Flavia, Lupus and Jonathan are cast up on a beach just outside Alexandria but there is no sign of Nubia. Some people from a nearby villa help them and take them to Alexandria. They assume that Nubia has been drowned and then they hear that she has been seen with Chryses, one of the scribes from Alexandria. They find out that they are both travelling up the Nile.

With another scribe, Seth, as a guide, Flavia, Lupus and Jonathan follow in Seth’s cousin’s boat. The trail is comparatively easy to follow as Chryses has left clues in the form of riddles for Seth. Then they hear that the authorities have offered a reward for them. They do not really understand why but they know they are now in danger. But they are still determined to find Nubia. As for Nubia herself, as she nears her homeland she finds she has a difficult decision to make.

The format of this book makes it easy to impart information. First there is much detail about Alexandria as Flavia and her friends are shown the city. Likewise there is similar detail about all the places they visit on their journey up the Nile Also the local customs and the religion of the Egyptians. And even in AD 81 Egypt was a destination for tourists from many countries.

It is, however, debatable, if it was really necessary to explain the meaning of the word eunuch.

This book is not a stand-alone. The danger Flavia and her friends are in goes back to the previous book. Moreover the matter is not completely resolved although a partial explanation is given for the reward offered for them. But at the end of the book the children disguise themselves to avoid capture. It is obvious that this theme is going to be pursued in later books in the series.

Comes with diagrams, maps, a glossary and historical notes.

11+

 

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