Miriam bat Isaac, Alchemist and Sleuth Extraordinaire by June Trop
I write historical mysteries set in Roman-occupied Alexandria during the first century CE. My protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, is an alchemist and amateur sleuth whom I got to meet quite unexpectedly.
You see, I spent my early professional life as a science teacher. I met Miriam when I was taking a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry. Chemistry is generally taught as if the knowledge accepted as Truth now has always been known. So, when the professor assigned a paper on some chemistry concept from the past, I had no idea what to write about. In desperation, I roamed the stacks of the library while looking toward the heavens for some inspiration. If I’d been looking where I was going, I might never have met Miriam.
As I bumped into one of the bookcases, a tome from a top shelf fell on my toe. It opened to a short article about a woman known as Maria Hebrea. I wondered how a woman from Ancient Alexandria came to be the legendary founder of Western alchemy and hold her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World.
In the alchemical literature, Maria Hebrea is alternately referred to as Mary the Jewess or Miriam the Prophetess, sister of Moses. Like her, all alchemists wrote under the name of a deity, prophet, or philosopher from an earlier time to enhance the authenticity of their claims and shield themselves from persecution. Although the tradition among all the crafts and mystical cults was to guard the secrecy of their work, persecution was a real risk for alchemists, who could be accused of and summarily executed for synthesizing gold to debase the emperor’s currency.
With so little known about her, not even her real name, I was free to invent a life for her. With her plucky spirit and analytic mind, why not make her my detective in a mystery series? She’d be up to the challenge; she’d play fair; and she’d make the pieces of the puzzle fit together. She’d even give readers a chance to the solve the puzzle along with her, although they’d likely be unable to do so. And the solution would satisfy her sense of justice. So, while my Miriam bat Isaac is fictive, her personage is based on the once-famous Maria Hebrea, alchemist extraordinaire.
In the latest of her five adventures, The Deadliest Thief,Miriam’s best friend, Phoebe is kidnapped. At the same time,a brute of a man is stalking Miriam’s assistant, Nathaniel ben Ruben, an itinerant potbellied dwarf. Could this brute be the same man who kidnapped Phoebe? And can Miriam find her before it’s too late?
According to Kirkus Reviews, The Deadliest Thief has “an entertaining plot ending with a most unexpected twist.” [but] “The real strength of Trop’s atmospherically rich book lies in her ability to transport her audience to a distant time and place.” So, let The Deadliest Thief, e-book or paperback, take you into the Alexandria’s underbelly to help Miriam solve her most baffling case yet.
The Deadliest Thief
Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist and amateur sleuth in first-century CE Alexandria, becomes frantic when her best friend, Phoebe, is kidnapped. At the same time, a brute of a man is stalking Nathaniel ben Ruben, an itinerant potbellied dwarf. Could this brute, the last surviving jewel thief from the Temple of Artemis, be the same man who has kidnapped Phoebe?
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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 books have been cited for excellence at the New York Book Festival, by Wiki Ezvid, the Historical Novel Society, and as a 5-star Readers’ Favorite.
An active member of the Mystery Writers of America, June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, NY where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine’s next life-or-death exploit.
Connect with June on her website www.JuneTrop.com or her Facebook page: June Trop Author.