Albert Bell of History Faculty Writes
Mystery Novel Set in
Posted October 1, 2002
HOLLAND -- Dr. Albert Bell Jr. of the Hope College
faculty applies his interest in ancient history to his
latest mystery novel, setting the action in the Roman
His newest mystery, "All Roads Lead to Murder," is
set in April of A.D. 83, in the provincial city of Smyrna.
His protagonist is a real-life historical figure, Pliny the
Bell has drawn upon his scholarly interest in the
period before in writing fiction. His novel "Daughter of
Lazarus" is set in first-century Rome, and his mystery "Kill
Her Again" is set around an archaeological dig in modern-day
A professor of history and chair of the department
at Hope, he noted that he finds the era and empire
interesting as both a scholar and an author.
"It just appeals to me because in some ways it's
similar to the United States today," he said. "It's large,
it's a diverse culture, people travel long distances, and
many of those things are the kind of issues that we face
today. There are different groups of people who are
interacting who don't always understand one another, who
don't always get along well, and it seems to me a situation
where a lot of tension could arise, and that's certainly a
good setting for fiction."
The book's cast includes a mix of characters--
Roman aristocrats, a Germanic merchant, a Christian doctor,
and others in their orbit as the crime takes place and the
investigation unfolds. Bell also mixes in details of life
at the time, such as the treatment of slaves, the risks of
travel by sea and the quality of tavern fare.
"All Roads Lead to Murder's" protagonist, Pliny
the Younger, held a variety of government offices in the
Roman Empire, and is known through surviving letters that
include his first-person account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius
in A.D. 79 and his investigation of the Christians in the
province of Bithynia. The personality and mind that emerge
from the writings made him an intriguing choice for Bell,
who has also written scholarly articles about Pliny--and
earlier included him as a character in "Daughter of
"I've come to realize that he has a kind of a
skeptical rational view of the world, a little bit unlike
other Romans of the time," he said. "And when you have a
private investigator sort of person as Pliny is in the
novel, you always want him to be a little bit out of sync
with the people around him."
"That's one of the virtues of the letters he wrote
about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius," Bell said. "He
doesn't just say, 'You know, the gods destroyed the town,'
he gives you this detailed moment-by-moment description just
like a modern scientist would of what's happening."
Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, had written a
natural history, one of the era's largest compendiums of
science. Pliny the Younger in his letters mentions having
inherited a library of 160 scrolls from his uncle, a
resource that Bell plans to have his detective draw upon as
an investigative reference in future books.
Although Bell drew upon the historical record in
writing "All Roads Lead to Murder," he intends the
background as complement to the characters and story and not
as an undercover history lesson. At the same time, though,
he won't mind if people enjoy the book on multiple levels.
"I hope people will find this book enlightening
and informative as well as just a good read that you can
take to the beach or something and sit back and enjoy it for
the afternoon," he said.
"All Roads Lead to Murder" is published by High
Country Publishers Ltd. of Boone, N.C. The hardcover book
costs $21.95, and is available at the college's Hope-Geneva
Bookstore as well as other area book sellers and on-line
A reception in conjunction with the publication
will be held on Thursday, Oct. 24, at 3:30 p.m. in the
Herrick Room of the DeWitt Center, located on Columbia
Avenue at 12th Street. The public is invited, and admission