Hope College history professor Albert Bell’s mystery series set in the ancient Roman Empire has returned with “Fortune’s Fool: A Sixth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger,” published recently by Perseverance Press.
As with the five earlier volumes, the book’s protagonist is Pliny the Younger, who was a real-life person in the first and second centuries AD.
Pliny is supervising the expansion of his family’s villa on Lake Como in northern Italy when workmen discover a skeleton hidden in a wall. He launches a scientific investigation, but soon receives anonymous warnings to cease. When he persists, his wife, Livia, is kidnapped, with the ransom being an unknown document. Pliny is aided in rescuing her by his beloved slave, Aurora, and his friend, the historian Tacitus, the latter of whom is also drawn from real life. En route to rescuing Livia and solving the mystery of the skeleton, Pliny uncovers secrets and deaths two decades old involving both their fathers.
Author Dorothy Cannell, an Agatha Lifetime Achievement winner, has described “Fortune’s Fool” as “A delightful combination of fiction and history, with scholarly insight,” while Edgar Award finalist Sally Wright has called it “a compelling tale, fraught with intrigue and complicated hatreds, that offers the reader a thought-provoking glimpse of life in dangerous times.” Mystery Scene magazine called it a “marvelously written book” that “sets a high standard for mysteries in the time of the Caesars.”
Bell’s Pliny series began in 2002 with “All Roads Lead to Murder,” followed through the years by “The Blood of Caesar,” “The Corpus Conundrum,” “Death in the Ashes” and “The Eyes of Aurora.” “The Blood of Caesar” was named one of the 5 Best Mysteries of 2008 by “Library Journal.”
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, located in modern Turkey. 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 12th work of fiction. In addition to the six 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. Most recently he has published “Murder My Love,” a contemporary mystery set against an archeological excavation, and “Death by Armoire,” a cozy mystery set in a Southern antique shop. 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 two grandsons.
Copies of “Fortune’s Fool: A Sixth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger” are available for $15.95 through the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore. The bookstore 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.
Copies are also available at other area booksellers and all online booksellers, and electronic versions are available for most types of readers.