The Gods Help Those: A Seventh Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger

Written by Albert A. Bell jr.
Review by J. Lynn Else

When Pliny the Younger is called to the scene of a collapsed warehouse, multiple bodies are found. One of them, wearing equestrian clothing, appears to have been murdered. Also found in the wreckage is an abandoned baby who he quickly discovers has been circumcised, a practice unusual to Rome. Examination of the equestrian’s body reveals the victim’s lips have been sewn shut, with thirty pieces of silver left in his mouth. When Pliny learns this references a passage from the Jewish holy book, Pliny and his friend Tacitus are pulled into a murder plot that could have ties to the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple—an event that took place 15 years earlier—and a group of assassins thought to be extinct.

The mystery of who and why unfolds very well. I enjoyed the walks through Rome’s streets and the palpable religious tension bubbling under the surface. Pliny and Tacitus are an enjoyable team to lead readers through the case. The author has a good mix of characters representing the various classes of Roman society. What surprised me, however, was that by the book’s resolution, a few plot threads were dropped like the mysterious box that one of the murder victims claimed to know the location of. Additionally, I didn’t feel that Aurora’s narrative added much value other than one scene between her and another woman. Aurora’s voice comes off as a bit immature and modern-thinking. In one case, she refers to a wet nurse as a cow and “moos” when referring to her. All in all, however, despite a few modern-slanted mindsets sprinkled in, a good mystery with enjoyable setting details.