By Albert A. Bell, Jr.
Perseverance Press (September, 2018)
The seventh case from the notebooks of Pliny the Younger
by Shirley Wetzel
Rome has been deluged with heavy rain for days, and the rivers are rising. Pliny the Younger is not surprised when word comes that one of his warehouses on the banks of the Tiber is collapsing into the water. That’s bad enough, but to make it worse, it’s the one he’d convinced his unpleasant mother-in-law to invest in, hoping the profits would cause her to look on him more favorably. To add insult to injury, several bodies have been discovered under the wreckage. Normally, the guard would have just dumped the nameless victims into the river, but one man is dressed in the in the garb of the aristocracy, and his death was no accident. He was stabbed, and his lips are sewn together. Attention must be paid.
While Pliny and his men are examining the scene, Aurora, Pliny’s servant and lover, finds a newborn baby hidden in the rubble, clinging to life. One of the women is badly hurt but still alive as well. Pliny, who has experience with solving mysteries, directs his men to take the problematic body to his home. Pliny’s neighbor, the rich and repugnant Regulus, offers his litter to transport the woman and the baby, clutched firmly in Aurora’s arms. He further offers a wet nurse to feed the infant. Pliny and Regulus have a contentious relationship at best, and Pliny is suspicious of his neighbor’s motives, but needs must.
All the women in the house make a fuss over the tiny boy. When his swaddling is removed, they discover that he is circumcised, a rarity with Romans. Naomi, the Hebrew companion of Pliny’s mother, knows that he is almost certainly Jewish. The badly injured woman, who is unable to speak, shows no sign of recent childbirth. The baby’s mother is likely floating down the Tiber to the sea.
Pliny and his friend Tacitus examine the dead man’s body. He, too, is circumcised, and it seems logical that he is the father. Of more interest is what they find when they cut the sutures sealing his mouth shut. A small bag holds thirty silver coins. It must mean something, but no answer comes to mind. There are few Jewish aristocrats in Rome, and the man is quickly identified as one of the sons of the notorious Queen Berenice of Judaea. The identity of this baby sets in motion chaos and violence.
This is the seventh book in the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger series. Albert A. Bell Jr. is a college history professor, and he combines his knowledge of Roman history with a great sense of place and believable characters, real and fictional. Recommended.
Copyright © 2020 Shirley Wetzel. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.