Book Title: The Deadliest Sport: A Miriam bat Isaac Mystery in Ancient Alexandria
Author: June Trop
Category: Adult fiction, 242 pages
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Release date: October 7, 2017
Tour dates: May 14 to 25, 2018
Content Rating: PG (mild religious oriented expletives, such as “Lord,” some violent descriptions, such as the corpse, the gladiatorial arena)
Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath.
When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady and dangerous enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam’s elderly charge, turns up missing; Amram becomes seriously ill; and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?
I love historical fiction novels, and this one definitely hit the spot. Miriam’s brother has always been harsher than her, but Miriam starts to worry about him when she sees that he is shouting at servants for small offenses. When he asks her for the family money to build a gladiator school, Miriam does not see the project going well so she decides not to give him the money, and he won’t forgive her for betraying him like this. When strange things start happening to people, Miriam has to find out what is going on and if her brother is connected to all of it.
This historical mystery was action-packed, and all of the characters were unique. The story was also well-paced, and engaging enough for me to finish it in a few hours. My only complaint was that some of the things seemed quite modern for first-century Alexandria, but then again Miriam was a famous alchemist so some things could have been more advanced than others. My favorite part was definitely hearing about all the inner workings of the society, and the lives of the gladiators. There were no editing errors even though I had an advanced copy, and the story had no dead spots.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a new historical mystery novel to dive into as a fun afternoon/night read. You will definitely be sucked into the world and the different characters.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
To read reviews, please visit June Trop’s page on iRead Book Tours.
June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.
“I don’t remember how I spent my share,” June says. “You could buy a fistful of candy for a penny in those days, but ever since then, I wanted to be a writer.”
As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students’ imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling. Her first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin Press, 2009), is based on the stories new teachers told about their first classroom experiences.
Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing The Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. Her heroine is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine’s next life-or-death exploit.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Being a student meant writing. Being a teacher meant writing, and being a professor meant writing. But I began writing fiction shortly after retiring, which was eleven years ago. Writing mysteries was a dream I’ve carried with me since, as a girl, I read the Nancy Drew mysteries.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
I don’t think I get writer’s block. If my imagination stalls, I review my plot outline, perhaps reading over the preceding scene, and picture where my characters are and what they need to do. Then I write. I figure I’ll have the chance to re-write it anyway, but at least I’ve revived my imagination.
What made you write a mystery set in Ancient Alexandria (Egypt)?
When I was a student, I took a course on Concepts in Chemistry. My interest focused on alchemy as a primitive science before it evolved into quackery. And so, I modeled my sleuth after the most famous alchemist of all time, a woman who lived in first-century CE Roman-occupied Alexandria.
What’s the last good book you’ve read?
I’m going to change your question to what’s the last good book you’ve read for the first time? I often re-read a good book to focus on a writer’s particular skill, such as the ability to write dialog so that it sounds like the spoken rather than written word. But the last good book I read for the first time was Nutshell by Ian McEwan because his protagonist, a fetus, writes from a unique and difficult point of view to craft.
What advice would you give to hook and keep a reader’s interest?
Make some event topple your protagonist’s world quickly, and then make the rest of the story move quickly. Trust your reader to be able to jump from one scene to the next without a lengthy transition. Use dialog and short paragraphs (lots of white spaces) to make the reader’s eyes fly down the page. And keep descriptions brief, with just a few telling words incorporated into an action.
What’s the one necessary quality for a successful writer?
I’ll have to quote Calvin Coolidge who said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” I keep his words posted on my computer table. In other words “Never give up.” I didn’t say “Never feel like giving up,” because you will, but don’t.