Pliny joins his best friend, Tacitus, on a hurried trip to Gaul because of family illness. But Pliny and his lover, Aurora, along with their fellow travelers, are stranded in a remote Alpine village—the same one they’d visited ten years earlier as teenagers. That time they’d tried to investigate a case of mysterious death, encouraged by his uncle, Pliny the Elder. Then, as now, they’re beset by dangers, both naturally and deliberately caused. Can they escape a second round of attempted murder?
Bell breaks new ground in this latest case from the notebooks of Pliny the Younger. Some of the story is told in alternating flashbacks to a time ten years earlier than the other series books, to the teenaged Pliny and Aurora in A.D. 77. And the setting is new: Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul (Roman-occupied France and northern Italy). An avalanche has stranded the couple and their fellow travelers in the very same small town in the Alps where the murder took place on their earlier visit. Not much has changed in the sleepy village since Pliny first reconstructed a crime scene, including the suspicious family members and secretive locals.
The flashback sections allow us to meet Uncle Pliny (the Elder) and Monica (his mistress, and Aurora’s mother) as living characters. Readers will enjoy the travels, at horse-and-wagon pace, between early cities that later became Genoa, Turin, and Lyon. (The speed of overland travel would not change for another seventeen centuries, with the paradigm shift of the invention of trains.) Some of the perils Pliny’s party faces are still with us in the 21st century (fire, avalanche, bandits) as are some of their pastimes (gambling and cheating at same). Enduring through the ages, of course, are both licit and illicit love.
Albert A. Bell, Jr. is a college history professor and novelist living in Michigan. In addition to his Roman mysteries, Bell has written contemporary mysteries, middle-grade novels, and nonfiction. He maintains a website devoted to Pliny the Younger (www.pliny-mysteries.com), as well as his author website: www.albertbell.wixsite.com/writer