Book Title: The Deadliest Sport: A Miriam bat Isaac Mystery in Ancient Alexandria
Author: June Trop
Category: Adult fiction, 242 pages
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Release date: October 7, 2017
Tour dates: May 14 to 25, 2018
Content Rating: PG (mild religious oriented expletives, such as "Lord," some violent descriptions, such as the corpse, the gladiatorial arena)
Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath.
When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady and dangerous enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam's elderly charge, turns up missing; Amram becomes seriously ill, and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?
I love historical fiction but there aren't many mystery novels set during the Roman Empire with a strong female lead, so when I saw this book I knew I wanted to read it. And I'm glad I discovered this intelligent mystery series that easily transported me to ancient Alexandria, an exotic and dangerous mix of people and places that kept me turning the pages.
Although this one is the third book in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery series, it can be read as a stand-alone. The author does an excellent job including details from past novels so that I did not feel lost. It did make me want to read the previous novels, though. And also the next one, which has just been released. Incidentally, Miriam's character is loosely based on a real person named Maria Hebrea, the legendary and little-known founder of Western alchemy.
In this instalment, Miriam is waiting for the return, from Rome, of her twin brother Binyamin, a renowned gladiator who will now fight one last time in Alexandra before becoming a free man. Miriam is of the Jewish faith and now the head of her household since the death of her father. She hopes Binyamin will want to help with the family business but he has other plans and wants to use the family money in an enterprise that is sure to fail. This causes great friction between the twins who are very different in most ways except to stand up for what they each believe in. Things start going wrong from the moment her brother sets foot in Alexandria and Miriam must use her wits and courage to deal with her situation.
I loved June Trop's writing. Her meticulous research of this period in history is clearly seen and seamlessly blends in with her descriptive writing. It was a treat to the senses. Sometimes I would reread a sentence twice to savor her beautiful depictions of food, clothing, the marketplace and the city itself. Truly, she brought to life Alexandria and the way of living in the first century.
The author's writing is also bold, as she puts her characters in difficult and precarious situations. The outcome may seem obvious, but in nonetheless unexpected. It takes confidence as a writer to make one's characters suffer loss and grow and change with each book. I look forward to continuing to read June Trop's series that satisfied my fascination with well-written stories set in time period of the Roman Empire.
To read reviews, please visit June Trop's page on iRead Book Tours.
June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, "The Steam Shavel [sic]," when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.
"I don't remember how I spent my share," June says. "You could buy a fistful of candy for a penny in those days, but ever since then, I wanted to be a writer."
As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students' imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling. Her first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin Press, 2009), is based on the stories new teachers told about their first classroom experiences.
Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing The Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. Her heroine is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine's next life-or-death exploit.
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