The Deadliest Hate

The Deadliest Hate

June Trop

October 2015 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-667-3

The Roman Empire may be the least of her enemies.

Our PriceUS$13.95
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

A secret alchemical recipe to transmute copper into gold surfaces in first-century CE Caesarea. As soon as Miriam sets out to trace the leak, Judean terrorists target her for assassination. Eluding the assassins while protecting a secret of her own, she discovers that she, herself, is responsible for the leak. Moreover she is powerless to stop its spread throughout the Empire and beyond.

But who is really trying to kill Miriam? Is it a case of mistaken identity, or is her late-fiancé’s ex-scribe, now an assistant to the Procurator of Judea, seeking to avenge an old grudge? Or is her heartthrob’s half-brother, a Judean patriot who inherited his mother’s mania, afraid Miriam knows too much?

And how did the recipe find its way from Alexandria to Caesarea anyway?

Audio excerpt from The Deadliest Hate:


Winner of Honorable Mention for fiction in the 2016 New York Book Festival

More coming soon!


Chapter 1

Late Morning

THE CORNERS OF Phoebe’s lips trembled as she handed me the wood-framed tablets. She’d been cradling them in her arms as if she were carrying a baby.

"Miriam, the jewelers’ courier just delivered this letter for you. It’s from a goldsmith’s shop in Caesarea.”

Phoebe was the foundling my mother rescued from the Bruchium quarter, the palace area of Alexandria. But over the years, she’s become more than our family’s beloved servant. Five years my senior, she’s become a big sister to me.

She’d rushed into my sitting room in the private wing of the first floor of our family’s townhouse in the Jewish quarter. One of the maids had just cleared away the remains of my breakfast of dates, almonds, goat cheese, and a wedge of wheat bread flavored with cinnamon, but the aroma of the tea she’d made from wild mint and elderflower still perfumed the air.

As soon as Phoebe said Caesarea, I knew the letter had to be from Judah. He’d sailed to Caesarea last September to find his half-brother, Eran. Judah learned he had a half-brother only two years ago when his mentor, Saul, a master jeweler and Eran’s father, confessed on his deathbed to also being Judah’s father.

When I touched the tablets, it was as if I could feel the heat where Judah’s hands had been, a sensation that triggered that dormant but familiar longing that was both pleasure and pain. I caught my breath and closed my eyes to conjure up the image of him I muse on before falling asleep. He’s standing in his shop as he did that first day when Papa sent me to the agora to collect his mortgage payment. When I walk in, I see his lids lift, his pupils widen, and I hear the rhythm of each breath slow and deepen to a sigh.

In the inky darkness of my cubiculum, relieved by only the softer darkness that floats in on the moon-cast shadows of the cypress trees outside my sitting room windows, I intoxicate myself with Judah. First I concentrate on his broad shoulders and narrow waist, his rugged cleft chin and high-bridged nose, his luminous green eyes, and the glossy black curls that frame his brow. Then I re-live the feeling of having been near him, of my pulse quickening and my flush mounting as I fill my lungs with his air, a hint of sandalwood riding on a heady male scent like honey on freshly-baked bread.

I rose from the cushioned mahogany sofa of my sitting room and walked around the marble-topped wicker writing desk to bring the tablets into the trapezoid of light the morning sun had painted on the mosaic floor. Then I broke through Judah’s seal, untied the leather bands that bound the hinged tablets, and opened the leaves to their waxed surfaces. Eager for any hint he might regard me as someone more than a comrade in the League of Alchemists or the friend who’d bathed his dying father, I scanned the letter for any tender phrases.

There were none.

I curled my hand around my neck to check the rising blush of mortification for daring to believe he could love me.

Phoebe asked, "Is he all right?”

I just shrugged and perused the letter quietly.

The beginning was ordinary enough.

The Shop of Eran ben Zahav

May, three days past Calends

The Eighth Year of our Emperor’s Reign

My dear Miriam,

I found my brother right here in Caesarea. He calls himself Eran ben Zahav. I am staying in his home on the Decumanus Maximus one block from the East Gate. His goldsmith shop is on the same street just south of the Forum. Caesarea is a city like Alexandria, prosperous, cosmopolitan, and a center of Greek culture with the usual monuments, statues, and baths.

He continued in this vein, writing about the sights in Caesarea and his pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover. But the next paragraph rocked me like an uppercut to the jaw.

Something about Eran bothers me. He’s been bragging to me about having a recipe to make a certain product, the very product Saul and I tried so long to synthesize. But he won’t tell me how he got the recipe or what it says.

Judah knew I’d recognize his reference to the formula he and Saul had been developing to transmute copper into gold. What’s more, he knew that any allusion to such a formula would be too dangerous to put in a letter. What he didn’t know was that the news would howl through my belly like a cold wind.

I’m disappointed that Eran would think I’d steal the secret to make a fortune at his expense. Even if Saul and I hadn’t been developing our own recipe, the last thing I’d do is steal it, especially from my own brother. And, of course, I’m astounded that others had been working on that same procedure and curious about their methods.

I too was astounded, but unlike Judah, I was more than cu­rious. Everyone knew the copper would first have to be blackened, and then the deadened mass would have to be heated in a bath of mercury. But no one other than Saul and Judah could have thought to seed that bath with beads of gold.

And then the following paragraph knocked me out.

So, I’m sorry he won’t discuss the recipe with me. From the little I’ve gleaned though, it sounds like the one Saul and I formulated. But, of course, that would be impossible. I know the notes were never out of your or my possession.

The guilt from that blow twisted my entrails because the notes actually had been out of my possession, albeit for less than a week. Two years ago on Shabbat, three scrolls had disappeared from my cubby in Papa’s library: my design for an apparatus to vaporize and condense metals safely, the League’s copy of Aristotle’s Meteorologica, and most important, Saul and Judah’s recipe for the League, a process to perfect copper into gold. I’d lied to Judah that Sunday when he’d been expecting me to return them. I told him I’d simply forgotten them and would return them in a week, the week that ended up almost costing me my life.

Having lent them to me without Saul’s permission, Judah was annoyed, impatient to get the scrolls back before Saul no­ticed they were missing. But I knew he’d be stung to the quick had I told him they’d been stolen. Still, more than to keep Judah’s yellow bile in balance, I lied to keep from losing face with him and of course, but to a lesser extent, to maintain my status with the other alchemists who were still debating whether to accept me as a full-fledged member of the League.

And the blow choked me with dread because I feared that Judah and Saul’s notes were at that very moment flying through the aether ready to provoke accusations that we Jews were con­spiring to debase the emperor’s currency. The Almighty had entrusted us, His Chosen People, with His Divine Art, charging us to protect His Lore from the ignorant and the vulgar, and I’d sent His Secret aloft on the wings of Mercury to incite, G-d forbid, another pogrom.

I’d been eight years old when the Pogrom of 38 erupted. Papa told me we had to stay within a tiny sector of the Jewish quarter, or we’d be killed, that frenzied mobs using stones, clubs, swords, and fire, were looting our shops, stealing our property, destroying our synagogues, torching our homes, and forcing our women to eat the flesh of swine. But he never told me what had happened to our elders, how those who hadn’t already been stripped and scourged in the theater or stoned, pummeled, torn limb from limb, or burned alive in the agora were crucified out­side the Gate of the Sun near the hippodrome.

But even without another wholesale pogrom, our comrades in the League could still be charged like common thieves with conspiring to cheat their clients. As a Roman citizen, I could at least appeal to Claudius for the right to defend myself in a proper trial. After that, the worst I could face would be a presuma­bly painless death by beheading. Judah and the others, being non-citizens, would be summarily crucified. Like the vilest of criminals, they’d be left to hang outside the city gates to suffer the summum supplicium, the most extreme punishment, after which there could be no burial, no lamentations, no peace, only their wandering souls, the buzz of blue-green flies, and a jackal’s marks on their scattered bones to serve as an appalling warning to others.

So I had to find out whether I was responsible for the leak and regardless, to see whether I could prevent the Gentiles from getting hold of our secret. Until then, the nightmarish creatures that haunted me two years ago would own me once again.



Chapter 2

Late Afternoon of the Same Day

"PHOEBE! WE’RE GOING to Caesarea!”

She’d just bounced into my sitting room, swinging the yel­low woolen satchel she’d taken to the market. The fringe of dark hair framing her face fluttered as she plopped into one of the occasional chairs that flanks the sofa. As I turned from my desk chair to face her, I saw that the fading afternoon light filtering in through the wide, east-facing windows had gathered on her round, girlish face.

I’d sent her in Papa’s sedan chair to Aspasia’s apothecary shop for some cannabis leaves that the cook could brew into a tea to calm my nerves. But more than the cannabis, I wanted to rest my forehead against the cool marble slab of my desktop. All of a sudden, my fears of losing Judah—and a million times worse—of provoking another pogrom, were once again clutch­ing at my vitals. I needed to ponder Judah’s news and at the same time chase away the monsters of the underworld that were threat­ening to overtake me.

From her slouch in the chair, Phoebe tossed the satchel with the bundle of cannabis leaves onto the blue jasper tiles that inlay the top of the sofa’s cedar end table. "Judah’s asked you to marry him! I knew it!” Clapping her dumpling-like hands, her eyebrows shot past the wisps of hair that feather her brow.

"Does this mean we’re moving to Caesarea?” Her dimples deepened as her smile widened in anticipation of my answer.

"Heavens, no. And Judah and I are not getting married ei­ther.” I felt another blush racing up my neck, but I squelched it by imagining Judah’s face if he ever found out I’d lied about the scrolls. "Unfortunately, it’s more serious than that. Remember when the scrolls disappeared from my cubby in Papa’s library?”

"Sure. But you got them back, right?”

Her face puckered with questions.

"Anyway, what’s that got to do with a trip to Caesarea?”

"There were secrets in those scrolls, Phoebe, and those same secrets may have surfaced in Caesarea.”

I’d been careful at the time to withhold more than Phoebe needed to know about the disappearance and recovery of the scrolls. I certainly didn’t mention that Noah had filched them from my cubby. No wonder she leapt to her feet, sprang across the room, and gripped me by the elbows.

Pearls of sweat clung to the fine hairs above her upper lip.

"Oh, no, Miriam. I can’t believe we’re going to have to track down another set of secrets. Last time, you were beaten and left for dead.” Her voice broke, but then she blinked and took a deep breath. "Besides, Judah’s already there. Can’t he do it?”

"I’m afraid not. I never told him the scrolls disappeared from this very house. I was too ashamed. Worse than that, I pretended they were never lost. If I ask him now to trace the leak of an alchemical secret, his no less, I’d have to tell him why, and that means admitting I lied.”

A pall gathered between us.

"Listen,” I said to dispel the gloom. "Speaking of getting mar­ried, isn’t Caesarea where Bion lives?”

"Oh, Miriam. That was so many years ago.”

Bion had been a public slave in Alexandria who repaired scrolls in the workshop of the Great Library before being sold to a Jewish craftsman in Caesarea. Phoebe met Bion when she brought him scrolls from Papa’s library. As a sideline, he’d repair privately-owned scrolls to earn the money to buy his freedom. He fell in love with Phoebe and wanted to marry her as soon as he could save enough to buy her freedom as well as his own. He wrote her several times from Caesarea, but she continued to refuse his proposal, telling him that free or not, she’d never leave our family. So eventually his letters stopped.

"You’re right, Phoebe, Bion was a long time ago, but maybe we can find him anyway.”

"Maybe, but with Judah it’s different. You know he’s com­ing back to Alexandria. He loves you, Miriam, and he’ll be over­joyed to see you.”

Phoebe couldn’t have been more wrong.

Please review these other products:

The Deadliest Lie

June Trop

October 2013 13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-367-2

She's a brilliant alchemist--with a talent for solving mysteries.

Our Price: US$13.95

click to see more