posted July 23, 2008

Mystery Novelist Albert Bell Returns to Ancient Rome

 Hope College history professor Dr. Albert Bell has returned to the ancient Roman Empire with his latest murder mystery, "The Blood of Caesar:  A Second Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger."

Bell's first mystery featuring Pliny the Younger, who was a real-life historical figure, as a protagonist was "All Roads Lead to Murder," which was set in April of A.D. 83 and followed his sleuth as he solved a murder in the provincial city of Smyrna. The latest takes place a few months later in the city of Rome itself.

Pliny's success in solving the previous crime has drawn the attention of the empire's current ruler, Domitian, who fears that a rival might challenge his claim to the throne.  Domitian enlists Pliny to determine if there are any previously unknown relatives of his deceased predecessor Nero, who was supposedly the last of the great Julius Caesar's descendants. At the same time, the body of a mason who was working on Domitian's palace is found in the building's library, and Pliny's mother implores Pliny to find the killer. In the course of his dual investigations, he begins to find that the two cases might be related.

Mystery novelist Clyde Linsley has written that "Bell weaves a fascinating, convoluted, but thoroughly convincing tale of intrigue and double-dealing in a society that is at once strangely exotic and all-too-familiar.  His solution to his seemingly insoluble problem borders on genius: perfectly plausible, consistent with the known facts, and totally satisfying."

In its review, the "Library Journal" has said that the novel "could be one of the masterpieces of the historical mystery genre," calling the book "outstandingly researched and laden with suspense." Also, the "Journal" noted, "Readers will delight in the duo's tracing of Caesar's blood line; walking with Pliny through his daily routine is entertaining, too."

"The Blood of Caesar" 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, Pliny the Younger had 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. His appellation distinguished him from his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who wrote a natural history that was one of the era's largest compendiums of science.

The new Pliny the Younger novel is Bell's sixth work of fiction. In addition to "The Blood of Caesar" and its predecessor "All Roads Lead to Murder," he has also written the mystery "Death Goes Dutch," which is set in present-day Grand Rapids; the mystery "Kill Her Again," which involves an archaeological dig in modern-day Italy; the historical novel "Daughter of Lazarus," which is set in first-century Rome and includes Pliny the Younger as a character; and the children's mystery "The Secret of the Lonely Grave," which is set in contemporary Kentucky and earlier this year 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.

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.

"The Blood of Caesar: A Second Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger" is published by Claystone Books, an imprint of Ingalls Publishing Group of Boone, N.C., and is available for $15.95 at the college's Hope-Geneva Bookstore or at any bookstore or online book dealer.