The Deadliest Lie

Fiction - Mystery - Historical
208 Pages
Reviewed on 08/28/2019
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Author Biography

I’ve modeled my heroine, Miriam bat Isaac, on the woman known as Maria Hebrea, who probably lived in Alexandria, Egypt during the First Century CE. When I encountered a reference to her work in a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry, I wondered how a woman from Ancient Alexandria became the legendary founder of Western alchemy and held her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World.

In the alchemical literature, Maria Hebrea is also referred to as Mary the Jewess or Miriam the Prophetess, sister of Moses. Like her, all alchemists wrote under the name of a deity, prophet, or philosopher from an earlier time to enhance the authenticity of their claims or shield themselves from persecution. Although the tradition among all the crafts and mystical cults was to guard the secrecy of their work, persecution was a real risk for alchemists, who could be accused of and summarily executed for conspiring to debase the currency.

So while Miriam bat Isaac is fictive, her personage is based on the once-famous but now little-known Maria Hebrea, alchemist extraordinaire. So, if you've ever imagined a plucky woman living during the Roman Empire, you'll surely want to meet my protagonist, Miriam, and follow her into Alexandria's underbelly.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Saifunnissa Hassam for Readers' Favorite

June Trop's mystery and historical fiction novel, The Deadliest Lie, is set in Roman Alexandria in 46 CE. Miriam bat Isaac is 16, well educated, and engaged to Noah, the son of Amram, her father's best friend and business partner. She is under pressure to set a date for the marriage. Miriam is undecided because she wants to be an alchemist. She borrows two priceless scrolls from Judah, a jeweler and an alchemist in the League of Alchemists. Miriam is very frightened when her notes and the League's scrolls are stolen from the family home. The information is secret and could endanger all Jews. The next few days are harrowing, filled with tension and danger as she suspects the thief could be her father, Isaac, or her twin brother, Binyamin, or her fiancé, Noah. Miriam is, however, determined to find the thief and recover the scrolls.

I enjoyed reading June Trop's The Deadliest Lie for its strong characters. I liked the richly imagined details of Roman Alexandria that permeate the entire story because that added depth to the characters and to the significance of the stolen scrolls. Miriam is an independent thinker, intensely curious and determined to be an alchemist. She is a keen observer of nature, of people, of the city. She is afraid but courageous, willing to take risks. I liked the way Trop weaves together and creates tension in the novel through Miriam's life, her family, and the stolen scrolls. A fascinating novel, inspired to some degree by an early alchemist, Maria Hebrea, who became the legendary founder of Western alchemy.