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Reviewed by Steve Leshin for Readers' Favorite
The Deadliest Thief (A Miriam Bat Isaac Mystery in Ancient Alexandria) by June Trop has several things going for it. For one, the setting of the story. As the title indicates, the mystery takes place in first-century Alexandria of the common era. This is during the time of the Roman occupation in the “7th year of the Reign of Nero”. Imagine the possibilities for a mystery story! Add to this, the main protagonist, Miriam Bat Isaac. The author, June Trop, describes her as a “budding alchemist and amateur sleuth”. She is married to Judah, a jeweler in the agora, who is really not central to the story and is mainly kept in the background. The opening sentence in chapter one sets the mood. "I stood there as if I'd been punched in the chest". Her best friend, Phoebe, has been kidnapped. Miriam later learns that the kidnapper is a brute who has been stalking Nathaniel ben Ruben, a friend who happens to be a dwarf. As she looks for clues and the reason behind Phoebe’s kidnapping, we are treated to some of the intricacies of ancient Alexandria.
The Deadliest Thief is a delightfully short novel packed with colorful characters and places of interest like “the Great Harbor”, the “Pegasus”, Miriam’s home and the “agora”. Without giving away too much, the aforementioned Miriam happens to be pregnant as well, and there is a funny moment or two with this knowledge as she tries to find her missing friend Phoebe. The various locales like “the Great Harbor” add to the story itself. In the background, the reader can sense the mood of the residents living under Roman rule. Roman citizens have certain rights. Slaves, of course, do not. June Trop manages to flesh out her characters well enough for a short novel, leaving the reader to speculate what role they played in the past. The Deadliest Thief is book 5 in a series featuring Miriam Bat Isaac with references to earlier mysteries. Yet, it stands up well on its own as a mighty good read.