28 July 2009

Book of the Week (24): “The Man from Pomegranate Street” by Caroline Lawrence

This is the final volume in Caroline Lawrence’s popular and successful Roman Mysteries series. Being that, the seventeenth book, you might be forgiven for expecting something slightly less exciting that its predecessors, something all about tying up loose ends and less about creating something whole and new. Well, if you start this book with those expectations, well, you are in for such a good surprise! This certainly is a book that ties up the long-running series neatly – though not comprehensively as enough ends are left dangling to make you wonder about these children as they grow up – but it is also a fast-paced, exciting story all on its own.

Flavia and her friends, Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus, are still working on events that were started in previous books, but now they are also searching for Jonathan and Flavia in particular is determined to find out the truth. The truth at any cost… There’s hardly time to take a breath here, as the friends race against time, against the new emperor – and the emperor’s torturer…

This series doesn’t disappoint. From the early days of The Thieves of Ostia (first published in 2001!), the books work their way across the Roman world, giving tantalising glimpses into how people lived and magically bringing the past to vibrant life. There are no dry history lessons here. In fact the history here is the opposite of dry, with very little left to the imagination about how terrifying it would have been to live in an age where painful death was an everyday reality and where slavery meant that any one person could be completely controlled by another. But for all the carefully portioned out history, it is the story that is paramount – and over the seventeen books Caroline Lawrence has grown as a storyteller, and as a writer. This final book ends the series triumphantly.

So, if you haven’t read the books – go read. Look at the website too as it is one of the best around; full of facts, trivia and hints about how to become a writer. There’s Caroline’s blog there too, which tells of her life, book events and many travels. If you want further explorations online, try this BBC site which is based on the TV series.

Recommended by Leonie Flynn

• Try one of Caroline’s own inspirations: The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene.
• Or for more history, try the harder but completely wonderful Roman stories by Rosemary Sutcliff – start with The Eagle of the Ninth.
• Or simply go for something else as fast-paced with Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant.

The Roman Mysteries in order:
  • The Thieves of Ostia
  • The Secrets of Vesuvius
  • The Pirates of Pompeii
  • The Assassins of Rome
  • The Dolphins of Laurentum
  • The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina
  • The Enemies of Jupiter
  • The Gladiators from Capua
  • The Colossus of Rhodes
  • The Fugitive from Corinth
  • The Sirens of Surrentum
  • The Charioteer of Delphi
  • The Slave-girl from Jerusalem
  • The Beggar of Volubilis
  • The Scribes from Alexandria
  • The Prophet from Ephesus
  • The Man from Pomegranate Street

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