Book Review: “The Thieves of Ostia” by Caroline Lawrence

Please note: I first published this book review on the “Goodreads”-platform on September 28, 2022. I’ve now decided to publish some of my reviews on my website.

My rating: 3 (of 5) “stars”

I bought a paperback copy published by Orion Children’s Books. Here’s a link to the author’s personal website.

I love Lindsey Davis’s Roman mystery novels, so I thought I’d like this Roman mystery for middle grade readers (ages 8-12), too. The publisher advertises it to readers of 11+ years of age.

Caroline Lawrence is a good writer, and I love the crime at the heart of this story – unexpected, and unusual. That’s a big plus.

I didn’t like the plot development. The writer uses coincidence to move the story forward. One character, who happens to be at the right place at the right time, overhears an important piece of information. I hate it when coincidence is used as a plot device. Coincidence at the beginning of a story is fine, but not at a later point in the story. That’s just lazy storytelling.

Also, the main character explains to the other characters at the end how and when she identified the criminal, and how she figured out what it’s all about. But the readers don’t have a chance to figure this crime out along with her, as the writer witholds vital information while she tells her story. I hate that in a mystery novel. In my opinion, readers should always have a chance to solve the crime along with the main character, but not all mystery novels are structured that way.

There’s something else that I think parents (or aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc.) should know who might think about buying this book for their child as a gift (spoiler alert):

I don’t consider many of the story elements suitable for 11-year old children (or older children for that matter): the heads of three dogs are cut off, and another dog is killed in a brutal manner; a very young slave-girl (shackled and naked) is rescued; she tells of another slave-girl who was murdered by being pushed into the sea with her hands tied, who drowned. One of the characters in this book is a young boy whose tongue was cut out, and who’s now mute. There are other, very violent story elements, and I don’t think they are suitable for young children.

Some children have a very vivid imagination. I remember reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” as a 15-year old. 40 years later, I am still traumatized. Do not underestimate your child’s powers of imagination! I really don’t think that 11-year olds (or 15-year olds, for that matter) should be confronted with such violent story elements.

But that’s a very personal opinion from someone who has an extremly vivid imagination. Your child might be emotionally more resilient than I was. If you consider this book as a possible gift for a child, I recommend you read it first, and decide after you finish reading it, if it’s a suitable present for a child.

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