Review: “The Man from Pomegranate Street” (Roman Mysteries XVII) by Caroline Lawrence

Review by Katherine Gilks

 The Man from Pomegranate Street, by Caroline Lawrence

ISBN: 9781842556085 6″ x 8″ • 262 pages • Trade Paperback $10.95 CDN; $8.99 USD Ages 9-14 Published: 2009 by Orion Children’s Books

This historical mystery novel will appeal to readers who enjoy a good story that is full of suspense, intrigue, romance, and humour.  Set in the Roman Empire in the year AD 81, this story takes place in the region surrounding the city of Rome, including Ostia, Alba Longo, and the Sabine Hills.  The Man from Pomegranate Street is the seventeenth and concluding novel in Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries saga.  Beginning two years earlier with The Thieves of Ostia (set in AD 79), Lawrence introduces the reader to four pre-adolescent detectives: Flavia Gemina, Jonathan ben Mordecai, Nubia, and Lupus.  Throughout the series, they have travelled extensively across the Roman Empire to solve mysteries.  By this novel, they range in age from eleven to thirteen years old.  One of the reasons that Lawrence likely concludes the series at this point is because her characters have grown past childhood: her central female characters, Flavia and Nubia, are now of marriageable age, for example.  Because of this, there are numerous romantic subplots in this story.  The main mystery that they intend to solve in this novel is the suspicious death of the Emperor Titus, who has been succeeded slightly too conveniently by his brother Domitian.  Owing to their exploits from previous novels in the series, the four youngsters are wanted by the imperial authorities and the story opens with them hiding in plain sight as they search for clues into the Emperor’s death.  Unlike in many series aimed at older children, the adults in the Roman Mysteries have vital roles to play.  The story also has a prologue and epilogue, in which the fifteen-year-old Flavia is recalling her last adventure as she is prepared for her wedding.  (Her groom’s identity is also a mystery throughout.)  Lawrence has a background in Classics and her stories are well-researched.  Information is worked into the story so as to impart fact without distracting too much from the plot, such as by telling stories while the main characters are travelling.  Also provided is a glossary, historical note, diagrams, and maps for relevant places in the ancient world. Lawrence also includes references to Christianity without proselytizing. Her story blends pagan, Christian, and folkloric elements into an exciting tale without being didactic.  Its language is suitable for young readers, without excluding less savoury elements of ancient Roman life.  Although this book is marketed for older children, it is equally enjoyable for an older audience.  Highly recommended for ages 9 – 14.  Published 2009 by Orion Children’s Books, 262p. Includes glossary. Pbk, $10.95.

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