Some books in the “historical fiction” genre seem meant to take seriously, while others are just fun books that happen to be set in a historical time period. I read Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld out loud to my boys (and Miss M read it to herself), and I think we would put it in the latter category.
Detectives in Togas revolves around a group of Roman boys who attend a small, prestigious school. The boys tease one another and get into petty fights, as schoolboys tend to do. It was one thing for Rufus to write “Caius is a dumbbell” on his tablet at school…but is he the kind of boy to write it on the temple wall outside Caius’s house as well? The authorities seem to think so, and Rufus is thrown in jail. The same morning as the writing is discovered on the temple wall, the boys discovered their teacher has been robbed, bound and gagged, and thrown in his closet.
The boys want to get their friend out of trouble, and find out who robbed their teacher as well. It is a bit of a madcap story as the boys explore possible leads, sneak around, consult a fortune teller, consider a letter to the emperor and visit various offices and officials. I’m not sure it’s very historically realistic behavior…but unlike my expectations of The Thieves of Ostia, I didn’t really expect a humorous book to include characters that acted exactly inline with what their historical counterparts might have done.
Overall this was highly entertaining for all of us (I think the three year old was even listening in, given some of the things he said to me after we read it). If members of your family are prone to name calling, you might want to know that calling someone a “dumbbell” is an event repeated several times in book — even by the boys’ teacher at the end of the story when he decides that Caius might really be a dumbbell after all when he gives a rather unintelligent answer to a question. Luckily I was able to break my boys of the idea pretty quickly that it’s a word that would be allowed in our house. Now if only I break my three-year-old so easily of the habit of using bathroom-humor sorts of words when he is mad at us! 😉
I was happy to find a copy of the sequel (Mystery of the Roman Ransom) at a recent library book sale, and we’ll probably be reading that at some point in the near future.