Trimalchio’s Feast and Other Mini-mysteries

Written by Caroline Lawrence
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Caroline Lawrence uses some of her readers’ questions, together with intriguing bits of her own research, as a basis for six stories about the four friends, Flavia, Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus, in her popular Roman Mysteries series.

On a school visit, Caroline Lawrence showed the children a Roman lamp and asked them what they thought it was. A child’s comment that you could hide a coin in it, gave her the idea for ‘The Case of the Missing Coin’, where a stolen gold coin is found inside a Roman pottery oil lamp.

‘Trimalchio’s Feast’ fills in something of Lupus’s back story and explains why he doesn’t have a proper birthday and what his friends decide to do about it. The resulting party has unexpected consequences!

In ‘Jonathan v. Ira’, she offers some fascinating details about gladiatorial training and tells us more of Jonathan’s experiences in the arena. My problem here is that Jonathan, an asthmatic, apparently doesn’t wheeze when he’s angry, but a steamy atmosphere triggers an attack. As any asthmatic knows, the opposite is true!

‘The Case of the Citrus Wood Table’ was inspired by her discovery that her replica Roman oil lamp, when lit, allowed oil to ‘sweat’ through the porous clay. This gave her the final clue which solved the mystery of the missing table.

In ‘Death by Vespasian’, a pompous aedile writes to the emperor Titus about the four children and their ability to solve a murder in a fuller’s shop where a man is discovered head down in a jar of urine. This was used to clean clothes, and she explains the whole smelly process.

This book, with its mixture of fascinating details about Roman life, together with more about the four friends’ back stories, is sure to appeal to Caroline Lawrence fans. For 10+.