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Detectives in Togas

by Henry Winterfeld
249 pages, Mystery
Reviewed by Jeanne

A humorous, historically accurate mystery set in Imperial Rome.

Plot

Mucius, Julius, Caius, Rufus, Antonius, Flavius, and Publius are all sons of Roman aristocracy, and all are members of the Xanthos School in Rome. They are, for the most part, great friends, but it is not surprising that they should have their spats; usually these die down quickly, but not this one.

Caius was being more annoying than usual one morning and Rufus, who was suitably aggravated, decided to write "Caius is a dumbbell" on his slate and hang it up on a nail behind the teacher. That should have been the end of it, but when Caius retorts in kind, the whole school is in an uproar. The next morning when all the boys save Rufus and Caius (who are strangely absent from the group) pass the Temple of Minerva and see scrawled in red letters the same words written on Rufus' tablet the day before, they have no doubt but that the boy has committed the sacrilegious act. And unfortunately for Rufus, such a desecration is punishable by death - no matter the age of the offender.

Morality

Justice is a key player in the story, as are such things as honor and family pride. It is clear that someone is being framed about what happened to the temple wall, but the culprit is found in the end. At one point Mucius lies, reasoning that since he is trying to help his friend, it "doesn't really count." For the most part, however, the boys are quite honorable.

Mucius, as the leader of the boys, tries to keep the others in line and lectures to them when they commit wrongs. Caius can be a bully and a grump and sometimes vindictive, but his actions are not condoned.

Spiritual Content

There are a few references to the Roman gods and myths of the time period, including Jupiter and Hades, and of course the plot revolves around the Temple of Minerva. A magician named Lukos lives across from Xanthos School, and a conversation among some of the boys about him results in a lively discussion concerning spells and enchanted pigs. Later, the boys visit Lukos and see him with a metal globe, by which he claims to be able to prophesy.

Violence

It is understood that Rufus has earned himself the death sentence for his scrawl on the temple wall. The Xanthos School is broken into and Xantiuppus, the boys' teacher, is trussed up and locked in a closet. The boys get snakes thrown at them and later are locked in a building. Caius hits a man over the back of the head with a wooden stool. A character falls from a great height and breaks their neck. Throughout the book, there are references to legends and histories that involve some violence: Odysseus' stabbing a cyclops in the eye, Julius Caesar's assassination, and other such events. Nothing is graphic or unsuitable for its intended audience.

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Sexual Content

None.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

"Dumbbell" is used several times, and Caius calls Rufus' father a coward. A few uses of "Shut up," but nothing more vulgar than that.

Conclusion

"Detectives in Togas" is a surprisingly accurate and humorous account of mystery in the days of Imperial Rome, inspired by the find of a temple wall in the ruins of Pompeii which had written on it the Latin words "Caius asinus est." It is a fun, interesting read for girls and boys alike, and also paints a good picture of the governmental structure and physical appearance of the city of Rome.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 4.5
Written for Age: 11-12

Review Rating:

Average rating: 5 stars
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