Detectives in Togas

Book: Detectives in Togas
Author: Henry Winterfeld
Illustrator: Charlotte Kleinert
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, republished in 2002
ISBN-13: 978-0152162924 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0152162925 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0152162801 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0152162801 (Paperback)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8 and up
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Any books donated for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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Winterfeld, Henry. Detectives in Togas (published in 1956 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, Orlando, FL 32887). It is at some unspecified time of the ancient Roman Empire, and Mucius, Rufus, Caius, Antonius, Flavius, Julius, and Publius are all students in the school of Xanthos, whom the boys nicknamed Xantippus because he reminded them of Socrates’s bad-tempered wife Xantippe. Caius had disturbed Rufus and wouldn’t let him study, so Rufus angrily writes “Caius is a dumbbell” on his wax tablet which he hangs on the wall. When Xantippus sees it, he sends Rufus home and threatens to expel him. When the boys arrive at school the next morning, they find that someone has broken into the schoolroom, attacked Xantippus, and stolen several articles, including Rufus’s tablet. But then an even worse crime is committed. They find that someone has written “Caius is a dumbbell” on the temple of Minerva dedicated to the Emperor by Caius’s father Senator Vinicius.

Unfortunately, the handwriting expert Scribonius confirms that it is in Rufus’s handwriting, so while Rufus steadfastly denies that he wrote it, he is taken off to prison and is slated to be sold as a galley slave. The boys must look for clues to find the real culprit and save Rufus. How did Rufus’s handwriting get on the temple wall anyway? Who might have been responsible for it? Could it be Senator Vinicius, or Lukos the astrologist whose house is across the street from Xantippus’s school, or even the Emperor who is jealous over the military victories of General Praetonius who just happens to be Rufus’s father? Or is there someone else lurking about? And will they be able to solve the case in time to spare Rufus? I first heard about Detectives in Togas back in 2007 when it was recommended by Love to Learn, a homeschool resource company. This delightful story not only presents readers with a suspenseful yet good, clean mystery but also gives youngsters a lot of insight into daily life in ancient Rome, with a good dose of humor along the way and a surprise ending.

During excavations at Pompeii, a temple wall was found on which the words “Casius Asinus Est” were written. These literally mean “Caius is an ass,” i.e., a stupid person, and this fascinating bit of history forms the basis for Winterfeld’s imaginary plot. Author Henry Winterfeld (1901-1990) was born in Germany, wrote his first children’s book Trouble at Timpetill in 1933, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1940. He originally wrote Detectives in Togas in German as Caius ist ein Dummkopf, and it was translated into English by Clara and Richard Winston. Being set in ancient Rome, it contains numerous references to the Roman gods, including such exclamations as “by all the good gods,” and to drinking wine. However, it corroborates the fact that the Emperor insisted on being worshipped as a god, which was the basis for the persecution of Christians in those days. There is also a moral to the story, as Xantippus uses the fate of the criminal to remind the boys that “The path of vice leads inevitably to ruin.” A sequel is entitled Mystery of the Roman Ransom.

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