Detectives in Togas

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Book Review

Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is in a series of other books by this German author and translated into English, but there isn’t a series title.

Plot Summary

In ancient Rome, a Greek mathematician named Xanthos runs a prestigious school. He has seven young students: Mucius, Caius, Rufus, Publius, Julius, Flavius and Antonius. The boys have secretly nicknamed their teacher “Xantippus” because he reminds them of Xantippe, the nagging, bad-tempered wife of Socrates.

One day a silly fight between Rufus and Caius sets off a serious chain of events. Rufus writes Caius is a dumbbell on a tablet and leaves it in front of the classroom. The angry Xantippus threatens to expel Rufus and says he will speak to the boy’s mother the next day. Rufus begs for a different punishment, but the teacher refuses.

The next morning, the boys gather at school, minus Rufus and Caius. They wonder why Caius is absent. When their teacher fails to arrive, they begin to worry about him as well. They speculate that a mysterious seer, Lukos, who lives nearby, has murdered him.

When they finally decide to enter the teacher’s apartment, they find Xantippus bound and gagged in his wardrobe. He says he was attacked, but the thief took only a few of his math books. The injured teacher gives the boys a few days off so he can recover. When he admits he had no real intention of expelling Rufus, the boys run off to tell their friend the news.

On their way to Rufus’ house, they see that a sacred temple has been defaced. In red paint, and in what appears to be Rufus’ handwriting, is written Caius is a dumbbell.

The boys learn Senator Vinicius, Caius’ father, is thinking of pressing charges against Rufus. They rush to Rufus’ house and urge him to run away. Rufus is acting strangely but looks genuinely surprised to hear about the writing on the temple wall. He denies any involvement but recalls that he left his tablet in the classroom. When the boys return to school, they and Xantippus realize the tablet is missing. They suspect someone has stolen it and used it to forge Rufus’ handwriting. The boys visit Caius’ father and urge him to consult a handwriting expert. The expert compares the tablet writing to that of the temple wall and states confidently that the same person wrote both lines. The angry Senator Vinicius has Rufus arrested.

The boys continue their detective work, desperate to clear Rufus’ name. They even pay Lukos a visit, but the seer scares them. While most of the boys escape the way they entered, Mucius gets away by climbing onto the roof and jumping across to the next building. Water breaks his fall, and he realizes he has landed in the Baths of Diana. His timing is fortunate, because the baths are still draining for the night. If he had arrived later, he would have fallen to his death in the empty pool. Unable to get out of the locked front doors, he falls asleep on a bench in the baths.

The next morning, a superintendent shakes him and asks angrily why he is here again. Mucius realizes the man must have seen Rufus the previous day and mistook him for the same boy. Rufus had gone to Lukos and asked him to put a spell on Xantippus so the teacher wouldn’t expel him. Rufus had been forced to escape Lukos’ house the same way Mucius had. Based on the timing of the pool closing and draining, Mucius realizes Rufus would have been locked inside the baths during the time he allegedly defaced the temple.

With the help of their teacher, the boys discover that Lukos is actually a schmoozing ex-consul named Tellus. Tellus posed as a seer to gain information that would keep him grow in his standing with the emperor and other elites. On Rufus’ visit, Rufus discovered Lukos and Tellus were one and the same. Tellus, desperate to flee town before being discovered, framed Rufus for defacing of the temple. He stole Rufus’ scroll and devised a way to transfer the print to the wall so it would be in the boy’s handwriting.

When the boys confront Lukos, he traps them in his house. Xantippus arrives with Senator Vinicius and the law in the nick of time. In the confusion, Tellus slips away and heads for the roof. He tries to escape through the baths but falls to his death instead because they have already been drained for the night. Rufus is released and reinstated at school.

Christian Beliefs

None

Other Belief Systems

Characters make many references to the gods and swear by their names. They thank them and make offerings to them when Rufus is freed. Lukos is hailed as an astrologist and seer with magical powers.

Authority Roles

Xantippus is a strict teacher who helps the boys clear Rufus’ name. He shows signs of loosening up toward the end of the story. Rufus’ mother is deeply concerned when her son is accused, and she throws a celebration party when he is freed from jail. Senator Vinicius angrily imprisons Rufus but makes things right when Xantippus asks him to help catch the real criminal.

Profanity & Violence

A guard tells the boys to go to the devil when he wants them to leave him alone. After Tellus dies, the boys put a sign on his door indicating that he has moved to Hades. The word jacka– appears once. Tellus attacks and injures Xantippus, the boys attack Tellus, and Tellus inadvertently jumps to his death in an empty pool. None of these instances are portrayed in graphic detail.

Sexual Content

None

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

Lying: Mucius lies to a newspaper reporter to get information that will help free Rufus. He says that lying at a time like this doesn’t count.

Alcohol: Tellus gets young Antonius drunk at a party so he can find out what the boys know about his double life.

Slavery: Characters speak off-handedly of having slaves.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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