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Book description

Lindsey Davis is well known for her Marcus Didius Falco historical mysteries and this one is number nineteen in the series. From the back cover:In A. D. 77 Marcus Didius Falco, private “informer” and stalwart Roman citizen, undertakes one of the most fearsome tasks known to man—he goes on vacation with his somewhat pregnant wife, Helena Justina, and their family. They travel to Alexandria, Egypt, and they aren’t there long before the Librarian of the great library is found dead under suspicious circumstances, in his office with the door locked from the inside. Falco quickly finds himself on the trail of dodgy doings, malfeasance, deadly professional rivalry, more bodies, and the lowest of the low—book thieves! As the bodies pile up, it’s up to Falco to untangle this horrible mess before the killer begins to strike closer to home.This lighthearted description closely matches the tone of the book: modern attitudes and dialog set in ancient times. This book is funny. Yes, there are mysteries, bodies, and the occasional brush with death, but the reader knows (just as in their favorite Agatha Christie book or crime T.V. show) that the main characters will live to solve another mystery and crack another joke. It’s a formula that works, or this wouldn’t be the nineteenth in the series. Readers come back for the familiar characters, the well-researched history and the humorous writing. The humor, in this book, is based on the thesis that “human nature never changes”—the sneering society matron, the bored bureaucrat, the absent-minded professor, the perpetual student—are all familiar stereotypes and nothing in the story challenges our imagination about the past. The people are just like us with a bit of history and mystery thrown in. Here’s Falco’s assessment of his brother-in-law’s ambitions:Like all students, immediately his family thought he was finally settling down in a prestigious, extremely expensive university, he heard through some grapevine that there was better teaching at another one. Or better parties and the chance of a better love life, anyway…His father would pay for it. The senator, a diligent tolerant man, would just be thankful that Aulus had not—so far—expressed a wish to be a gladiator, a master forger or a writer of ten-scroll epic poetry.Because the setting of the murder is the famous Library on the grounds of the Museum, the most celebrated learning center in ancient times, we even have the benefit of a CSI-like autopsy and specialists in poison and mechanics. Scholars at the Museum and Library are secretive with their research, jealous of each others’ favor and united only in their contempt for the Museum’s administration. One of my favorite scenes is a back-biting academic board meeting which could have taken place in my former place of employment.And if the reader gets a dose of history, while enjoying the mystery? Great! Davis provides a wonderfully researched book with lots of details on food, clothing, geography, architecture, and the state of science. Because I’ve researched Alexandria for my books and blog posts, I had an eagle eye out for errors. I found nothing of any significance. So, if you’re interested in a fun read where you might inadvertently learn something, this book is for you. Don’t worry about it being part of a series; it stands on its own, just fine.Please note: I purchased this book and the opinions are mine. This is an excerpt of a longer review posted on my blog.

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