The fifth installment in the on-going series of mystery novels set in ancient Rome by Dr. Albert Bell of the Hope College history faculty is being published this month, continuing the fictional adventures of real-life protagonist Pliny the Younger.
The book, “The Eyes of Aurora” (Perseverance Press), will be introduced at a launch party at The Bookman in Grand Haven on Saturday, Sept. 20, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
In “The Eyes of Aurora,” Pliny’s servant Aurora, who is also the forbidden love of his life, has played Good Samaritan to a woman who claims to be searching for her missing husband. Thinking he can help the woman, Pliny steps in, assisted, as usual, by his friend the historian Tacitus. But the situation turns into a web of deception and intrigue when they discover evidence of a horrific murder while searching in the countryside for clues to the whereabouts of the missing man. After Aurora is injured, Pliny’s involvement becomes personal. He’s even desperate enough to ask Regulus, his longtime sworn enemy, for help when the case brings him to the malevolent attention of the emperor Domitian.
D.E. Johnson, author of the Detroit Mysteries, has described Bell’s book as “Another gem, maybe his best yet. More than a mystery, it's a study of class politics, history and culture, and a sweet story of star-crossed lovers navigating the dangerous waters of Roman society in a quest for justice.” N. S. Gill said that “a snapshot of Roman social mores in the first century, humor, and working through seemingly impossible details to find the truth conspire to make this story worth your time,” while Kirkus praised the “colorful” characters and “vivid” period details.
The earlier books in the series have earned high marks from critics as well. The second, “The Blood of Caesar,” was named one of the 5 Best Mysteries of 2008 by “Library Journal.” Steven Saylor, author of the Roma sub Rosa series, called the third book, “The Corpus Conundrum,” “inspired . . . ingenious.”
The series draws on Bell's professional interest in ancient history. His scholarly work includes the book “Exploring the New Testament World,” which reviews the social, political and cultural background against which the New Testament was written, and a number of articles on topics including Pliny the Younger.
According to Bell, who is a professor of history at Hope, Pliny the Younger had held a variety of government offices in the Roman Empire, and is known through surviving letters such as his first-person account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and his investigation of the Christians in the province of Bithynia. His appellation distinguished him from his uncle, who wrote a natural history that was one of the era’s largest compendiums of science. More information about Pliny the Younger, the books and the characters in them can be found on a website that Bell has developed, pliny-mysteries.com.
The new Pliny the Younger novel is Bell’s ninth work of fiction. In addition to the five Pliny mysteries, he has also written the mystery “Death Goes Dutch,” which is set in present-day Grand Rapids; “The Flute Player,” available as an e-book; and the children’s mystery “The Secret of the Lonely Grave,” which is set in contemporary Kentucky and in 2008 won the inaugural Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Book Award from Western Kentucky University Libraries. He also wrote the autobiographical “Perfect Game, Imperfect Lives: A Memoir Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Don Larsen’s Perfect Game,” which reflects on the 1956 World Series and growing up in the 1950s.
Bell has been a member of the Hope faculty since 1978. He holds a bachelor's degree from Carson Newman College, a master's from Duke University, a Master of Divinity degree from Southeastern Seminary and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina. He and his wife, a psychologist, have four children and a grandson.
The Bookman is located at 715 Washington in Grand Haven. Refreshments will be provided at the launch party, and copies of Bell’s other books will also be available.
Following the launch event, copies of “The Eyes of Aurora: A Fifth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger” will also be available for $15.95 at the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore, which is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., and can be called at 800-946-4673 or (616) 395-7833. Additional ordering information may be obtained by e-mailing the Hope-Geneva Bookstore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The book will also be available at other area booksellers and all online booksellers, and electronic versions will be available for most types of readers.