The Thieves of Ostia

( 9 )


Flavia Gemina is brilliant at finding things, so it's natural for her to solve mysteries. The daughter of a ship's captain living in Ostia, the port of Rome, in AD 79, she acquires a gang of three friends who help her. There is Jonathan, the Jewish boy (and secretly a Christian); Nubia, the African slave girl; and Lupus, a mute beggar boy. Together they work out who severed the heads of the watchdogs that guard people's homes, and why he did it. Caroline Lawrence is a terrific storyteller and a delightfully ...

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Flavia Gemina is brilliant at finding things, so it's natural for her to solve mysteries. The daughter of a ship's captain living in Ostia, the port of Rome, in AD 79, she acquires a gang of three friends who help her. There is Jonathan, the Jewish boy (and secretly a Christian); Nubia, the African slave girl; and Lupus, a mute beggar boy. Together they work out who severed the heads of the watchdogs that guard people's homes, and why he did it. Caroline Lawrence is a terrific storyteller and a delightfully readable and accessible writer with characters that children will relate to. Her picture of daily life in Ancient Rome is wonderfully vivid. But The Thieves of Ostia is first and foremost a whodunnit, with lots of twist and cliffhangers—and a mystery for the reader to solve.

In Rome in the year 79 A.D., a group of children from very different backgrounds work together to discover who beheaded a pet dog -- and why.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this atmospheric debut novel, the first installment of a planned series, readers are whisked to the first century A.D. to help girl detective Flavia Gemina solve a brutal crime in the Roman port city of Ostia. When the guard dog belonging to Flavia's secretly Christian neighbors is slaughtered, Flavia sets out to find clues. She is accompanied by four trusty companions: Jonathan and Miriam, the Christian children; Nubia, a slave girl whom Flavia has recently acquired with her birthday money (with the purpose of emancipating her); and Lupus, a mute beggar boy. Many adventures later a pack of wild dogs chases them, they narrowly escape malicious slave traders and discover that their chief suspect has committed suicide by jumping from a lighthouse the children catch the culprit. Those looking for thrill-a-minute entertainment will find their fill of near-catastrophic events here, but the violence may be hard for some readers to stomach. Red herrings emerge too conspicuously and dialogue is sometimes stilted. Nonetheless, this historical mystery offers an intriguing glimpse into the customs, attitudes and class systems of the Roman empire. Ages 9-14. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
While looking for her father's missing ring in a magpie's nest, Flavia Gemina is attacked by a pack of wild dogs. She is helped by Jonathan, the first of three new friends who will help her solve a mystery. When Jonathan's dog is killed and beheaded these four children, one of whom is an African slave-girl and one who is an orphan whose tongue was cut out, set out to discover the culprit. Their search takes them on some harrowing adventures. They are chased by the slave dealer's henchman through the streets of Ostia, and are attacked by the pack of wild dogs in the necropolis. Readers will learn about life in ancient Roman times while enjoying this fast-paced mystery. Each chapter ends as a cliffhanger, beckoning the reader to continue. A map of the town and a diagram of Jonathan and Flavia's houses make the time and setting familiar to the reader. This is the first of a series of Roman mysteries set in 79 AD. I look forward to the further adventures of these four friends. 2002, Roaring Brook Press,
— Sharon Salluzzo
This historical novel set in the Roman Empire of 79 A.D. is the first in the Roman Mysteries series featuring Flavia Gemina. Twelve-year-old Flavia believes that she has a great talent for solving mysteries. After her friend Jonathan's dog is beheaded, the two set out through the streets of Rome to discover who committed this gruesome crime and why. They must flee a brutal slave dealer, a pack of wild dogs, and an angry sailor. Jonathan and Flavia interact with a diverse mix of Roman citizenry, sea captains, politicians, military, and clergy in their quest to discover the guilty person. Facts describing the food, clothing, and customs of ancient Rome add authentic period detail. A minor subplot involves the many religious elements present at that time in Roman culture, including early Christianity, the Jewish faith, and Roman mythology. Detailed references to mythology and unusual facts of domestic Roman life are often more sophisticated than the age level of the intended audience. The solution to the mystery is not obvious, and a few unexpected twists will keep readers intrigued, but the characters are one-dimensional, and the dialogue is stilted. Lawrence includes a helpful glossary of terms and Roman historical figures. Although full of action, the writing is slow-moving, and readers might lose interest in the outcome when faced with the myriad details. The audience for this book will be limited to dedicated historical fiction readers. Glossary. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2002, Roaring Brook Press/Millbrook, 160p,
— Eileen Kuhl
From The Critics
It is Rome, 79 A.D., and a group of children from diverse backgrounds join forces to discover why selected dogs in their neighborhood are being, of all things, beheaded. Slowly, this gang of would-be detectives snoops around the city of Rome, following a host of leads. Soon, young Flavia Gemina and her band of Roman friends discover that the killer (who may also be a big time thief) might be someone closer to their lives than they had originally believed. With adroit and skillful writing, the author hooks the reader into this fast-paced, sharply pieced together mystery, and doesn't let up until she reaches a convincing and satisfying solution — our culprit is caught, and justice is served. Moreover, the book is filled with appealing and believable characters, interesting historical information, and strong narrative descriptions. A nice addition to this book is the concluding glossary of terms and place names derived from ancient Rome. This work is the first in a projected series, and is appropriate for discriminating male and female readers of ages 9-14. 2002, Roaring Brook Press, 160 pp.,
— Wendy Bell
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-This story takes place in the Roman port city of Ostia in the year A.D. 79. Flavia Gemina, daughter of a sea captain, is an accomplished amateur detective. Her companions include her neighbor, Jonathan; Lupus, a young beggar; and Nubia, an African slave about her age. When Jonathan's dog is beheaded and other canines are slain, Flavia and her friends set out to find the killer. Running from slave traders and wild dogs are only some of the dangers that they encounter. The book is fast paced, but another strength is its description of Roman life. The author provides a glimpse at the various classes that make up this society, and through the lives of the characters, readers learn about the attitudes, beliefs, and customs of the period. The treatment of slaves and the confusion about Christians are just some of the facts that are included. Vivid descriptions of the architecture, economy, and politics lend an authentic note. The information is skillfully woven into the story, providing details that heighten readers' interest. An enjoyable mystery, and more.-Lana Miles, Duchesne Academy, Houston, TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fast-paced, crackling good mystery is set in "the tenth year of the Emperor Vespasian" and aimed at middle-grade readers. Flavia lives in Ostia, the seaport of Rome, where her father is often away at sea. They have new neighbors: a boy named Jonathan, his sister Miriam, and their father. All of the children are motherless. Flavia shows herself both smart and resourceful right off, tracking the magpie that has made off with her father's signet ring, but needing rescue from feral dogs in the process. That's when she makes the acquaintance of Jonathan. She uses her birthday money to purchase a slave, Nubia, when she sees the girl in chains in the marketplace, and the trio soon adopts Lupus, a wild child who has had his tongue cut out. This lively group takes it upon themselves to find out who has been beheading household dogs, and they fasten upon a man unhinged by the death of his daughter from a rabid dog bite. There are lots of interesting historical bits: Jonathan and Flavia wear the bulla, a charm on a chain that indicates they are freeborn children; Flavia's favorite reading materials are in scrolls; Jonathan's asthma is treated by oil of marjoram. Jonathan's Jewish family are converts to Christianity, and their worship, as well as Flavia's of the Roman gods, are noted in passing. The children use logic, deduction, reasoning, and imagination to solve the crime, and the multicultural cast stretches, but does not shatter, credulity. Sequels are promised, and young mystery-lovers will be eager for the next. (Fiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781842550205
  • Publisher: Orion Children's Books
  • Publication date: 4/1/2002
  • Series: The Roman Mysteries Series
  • Edition description: New
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 132,061
  • Age range: 12 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Caroline Lawrence grew up in California and went to England when she won a scholarship to Cambridge to study classical archaeology, which she followed with a degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies at the University of London. She is the author of The Roman Mysteries, which has been turned into a television series for BBC.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 10, 2013

    I REALLY want to read this book really badly, as it seems SOOO s

    I REALLY want to read this book really badly, as it seems SOOO super good, but I need it on the NOOK, can someone please make it so 
    You can buy it on the nook? Thanks for listening/reading!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2004


    Bookstores are awash with detective/thriller stories boasting female protagonists. Yes, we have met quite a few brave, clever gals who can solve a mystery without chipping their manicures. However, I venture to say there are none like Flavia Gemina, introduced in Caroline Lawrence's debut novel. You see, Flavia is a Roman sea captain's daughter who lives in 79 A.D. She's a carefree young miss who lives with her Dad in the port city of Ostia. She's also an animal lover, so when the dogs on her street start dying she is bound and determined to find out who is killing them and why anyone would perpetrate such senseless acts. Kim Hicks, a very talented Brit who has performed in praiseworthy one-woman shows, gives captivating voice to Flavia and her buddies - including neighbor Jonathan; Nubia, a slave girl; and Lupus, a mute beggar boy. As the group sets about solving the mystery they uncork a genie's bottle of adventures, escapades, and narrow escapes. Listeners will particularly enjoy the setting of this tale as they learn something about life in ancient Rome. - Gail Cooke

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2003


    Amazingly written. Keeps you guessing till the end. Flavia and her friends delight children of all ages. if you liked this book or any others in the series please visit :the official fan site!

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