ANCIENT FORENSIC SCIENCE
My mysteries are set in Roman-occupied Alexandria during the first century of the Common Era. Why then? Well, one reason is I thought my protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, wouldn’t have to deal with forensic technology. Little did I know that, although the Romans didn’t have a formal body of forensic knowledge, they used some methods similar to what we have today. One example is bloodstain pattern analysis.
In The Deadliest Sport, Miriam examines the blood spatters in the room of a sleazy waterfront inn to solve a “locked-room mystery”, that is, a mystery about a crime, usually murder, that appears impossible to have been committed. The crime need not take place inside a locked room, as it does in The Deadliest Sport, but in any utterly inaccessible place.
The most famous case of a Roman jurist analyzing a bloody handprint is titled “Paries Palmatus” or “The Wall of Handprints.” A blind son is accused of stabbing his father in his sleep to obtain his inheritance. Purportedly, the blind man took his sword from his room, walked across the house in the dead of night, and entered his father and stepmother’s bedroom. Then he stabbed his father once, killing him instantly without waking his stepmother, who found her husband dead in bed when she awoke. A trail of bloody handprints led from the parents’ room back to the blind son’s room, and his blood-covered sword was found as well.
The defense argued that the stepmother did it, upset because she would lose out on the father’s fortune to his blind son. So, she framed the blind man using his own father’s blood:
It was the stepmother, yes, the stepmother who set this up with her sure sight; it was she, with her right hand, who brought that poor blood there and made the imprint of [her] hand [on the wall] intermittently! The wall bears the imprints of one palm, has them at intervals, with a certain empty space in the middle, and everywhere the palm-print is intact; a blind man, on the other hand, would have dragged his hands [along the wall].
What other forensic techniques did the Romans use? Emperor Tiberius used footprints and drag marks to argue that his praetor, Silvanus, threw his wife out their bedroom window rather than, as the husband asserted, she chose to jump. Unfortunately for Silvanus, the marks of her struggle and his forcible ejection convinced the Senate of his guilt.
The point for me was that I learned every setting, especially a historical setting, is going to have its challenges, even its surprises. So, set your story in a time and place you’ll enjoy researching and then take your readers there.
FOR THE DEADLIES SPORT by June Trop
Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath. When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady, and dangerous, enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam’s elderly charge, turns up missing, Amram becomes seriously ill, and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?
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.