BY: JUNE TROP
Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist and amateur sleuth in first-century CE Alexandria, is concerned when she learns that the Torah mantle in Alexandria’s Great Synagogue has been damaged. She takes the mantle to Judah, a renowned jeweler and the unrequited love of her life. He repairs the mantle but assures her that the gems are genuine. Like Miriam, he is astonished that someone would damage the mantle but leave the gems behind. But Miriam suspects that something is not right. She is even more convinced that something is amiss, a few days later, when an anonymous note arrives, warning that the security at the Synagogue needs to be increased. As she digs for answers, she learns that some of the people she trusts are not what they seem, and she may not survive long enough to uncover the truth…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Deadliest Fever by June Trop, Miriam bat Isaac discovers that someone has damaged the Torah “mantle” in the Great Synagogue in Alexandria in first century BC. Although her jeweler friend, Judah, assures her that the jewels in the mantle are genuine, and have not been replaced with fakes, Miriam knows that something isn’t right. There would be no logical reason to damage the mantle without stealing the priceless jewels. Is someone who wants to work there vandalizing the Synagogue to persuade them to hire more guards, or is there a more sinister motive?
The story is well written, well researched, and the character development is superb. This is an excellent addition to the series.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Deadliest Fever by June Trop reunites us with Miriam bat Isaac, an alchemist and amateur sleuth in Alexandria in the first century CE. This time, she becomes alarmed when the mantle of the Torah in the Great Synagogue is damaged, even though the jewels are still there. Convinced they have been stolen and replaced with fakes, Miriam takes the mantle to Judah, a renowned jeweler and the man she secretly loves, who tells her that the jewels are real. He repairs the mantle, but Miriam believes the mischief isn’t over. Someone is up to no good, and she is determined to stop them.
The Deadliest Fever takes us back in time to when Alexandria was in its prime, its library and Great Synagogue pristine. With her vivid descriptions, realistic and sympathetic characters, fast-paced action, and solid plot, it will captivate you all the way through.
The Sixth Year of
the Reign of
Nero Claudius Caesar
May 60 CE
Alexandria ad Aegyptum
May 1, Thursday, Almost Midnight:
He waited, listening to the darkness flow into the sanctuary. With the thick drapes blocking the flare of torches lining the Canopic Way, the only light scratching the air was the meager glow of the eternal flame, the ner tamid of Alexandria’s Great Synagogue.
The coolness of the night had already begun to assert itself. Just a little longer, he told himself as his fist closed around the open edges of his long black robe. A few minutes later, as his other hand pulled back the hood over his head, he emerged from his hiding place, his body taut, his legs tingling from having stood in place for so long.
Stretching his cramped muscles, he approached the front of the Torah Ark. His fingers trembled with excitement, his eyes shining with greed as he drew open the parokhet, the curtain that screened the Ark.
“Like a bride’s veil,” he said to himself, amused by the analogy.
With a self-congratulatory nod and a tight satisfied smile, he pulled open the ornate bronze doors and carried the Torah to the Reader’s Table. For a few moments, he gazed at the coveted prize adorning the Torah mantle, three peerless jewels, each set into the bowl of one of the three vessels embroidered in gold on the mantle.
He didn’t need much light. His eyes were already accustomed to the darkness, and his hands had performed this procedure many times before. Taking a few deep breaths to calm the twitch at the corner of his mouth, he removed a slim wooden box from the goatskin pouch attached to his belt, took out his tools, and lined them up on the table: his silver pick, plyers, tweezers, snips, and a double-handled vial of olive oil. Then he undressed the Torah and positioned the mantle so the jewels caught the narrow strip of light from the ner tamid.
Oh, Lord! Even in the thinnest light, they spew out their fire!
Half-frightened, worried that he’d uttered the words aloud, he released only a feather of breath.
But hearing no echo, his jaw softened.
He was safe.
Then, hunching over the table, balancing his forearms against the edge, he took hold of the pick and laid his hands on the mantle.
He tried to loosen the center stone, the emerald. The setting was tight. Very tight. He tried again, this time after placing a droplet of oil on each prong.
This is going to take a while.
He shifted his weight and continued.
The silence was absolute save for the occasional sputter of the ner tamid and the distant rumble of hooves on the Canopic Way’s granite pavement.
Until he heard loudening footfalls ringing out against the tessellated floor, waking the echoes in the corridor’s coffered ceiling.
A crease of light swept under the sanctuary’s ceiling-high, bejeweled double doors.
He froze and held his breath, as fear prickled down his spine, until the clicking heels receded into the silence. He blinked slowly and released an unbidden sigh. Just the watchman on his rounds. He won’t come in here. He locked the doors to the sanctuary and all the outside doors to the Synagogue hours ago and won’t open them again until dawn.
His fingers worked through the night. Despite the chill, rivulets of sweat trickled down his back and collected under his belt. He straightened up now and then, rolled his shoulders back, and cocked his head as he admired his work.
His mouth curved into a triumphant smile.
Beads of saliva clung to his lips.
By now a pearly grayness was seeping under the doors. He could see the darkness dissolving. Objects in the sanctuary were reclaiming their color and shape.
He mentally ticked off the remaining tasks: Dress the Torah. Put it back in the Ark. Tuck my prize and the tools into the box. Slide it back into my pouch. Slip out as soon as the watchman unlocks the doors but before what’s-his-name…Gershon, that’s it, Gershon ben Israel…comes in to check the sacred—
Oh, Lord, what on Earth is that squeaking sound? Surely not a bird.
A sharp-toothed, leathery-winged bat shot out of nowhere, swooped across the sanctuary, and, wheeling around the bemah, took a dive, and nipped the crown of the man’s head before disappearing with a shrill screech behind the Ark.
His thin howl—part gasp, scream, and strangled sob—tore through the sanctuary.
Then he heard a pair of boots smacking the tiles.
I gotta get out of here! Where’s the—
Dressing it quickly, he shoved the Torah into the Ark, throwing everything else into his pouch.
Except the vial.
The vial. Oops!
Oh, Lord! Not now.
A hasty wipe with the sleeve of his robe.
The rising volume of hammering footsteps.
Now two sets—one close, the other farther away but catching up. Their volume swelled as they turned a corner.
Must be Gershon trailing the watchman.
The jangle of keys. The ping of the latch as the watchman unlocked the doors.
No place to hide. And, Lord, all this blood gushing from my head.
“No, Daniel, no!” Gershon shouted. “The other way. Hurry! The scream came from the library.”
© 2018 by June Trop
“Trop (The Deadliest Sport,2017, etc.) lends depth and familiarity to an ancient world and adds modern thriller sensibilities in this latest historical mystery novel, the fourth in the series…Trop’s prose is strong, with clean, natural dialogue and a particular flair for the kinetic details of action scenes and the dramatics of disguise and investigation…A historic page-turner that promises to bring fans new and old to the table.” ~ Kirkus Reviews