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by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer
Poisoned Pen Press, December 2001
242 pages
ISBN: 1890208825

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is the third of John the Eunuch's adventures during Justinian's reign as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The novel takes place five hundred years after the birth of Christianity and is set primarily in the epicenter of world political power; Constantinople. John, the emperor's Lord Chamberlain, is in a powerful and flexible position to pursue his inquiries. Still, on the constantly shifting sands of court politics and loyalties, his position is far from secure. Justinian's wife, the Empress Theodora is a powerful, often inimical force in her own right.

Justinian is intent on reestablishing Rome as the seat of the empire and vigorously prosecutes the war against the Goths who still maintain a dangerous foothold in Italy. Under his protection, he holds two children, heirs to the Ostrogoth throne. They are important figures, valuable to the Emperor's plans.

Theodora brings her retinue to the country estate of Zenois, a member of the royalty, where the two royal children are being looked after. Aware that the Empress requires constant diversion, the estate has planned a gala affair featuring her favorite mime, a man named Barnabas. The estate also features a one-armed man who is adept at designing and building mechanical contraptions with marvelous articulations and effects. During an evening's entertainment, one involving a whale that spouts water and rolls about the banquet hall, Barnabas disappears and the male Goth royal is discovered dead inside the mechanical whale.

Naturally, this causes considerable alarm and consternation and Lord Chamberlain, John the Eunuch is immediately pressed to find the mime, solve the murder and calm the Empress. He discovers, as he follows scant clues through high and low-born segments of society, a complicated mix of emotions, romance, lust, religious myopia, political considerations that shift as easily as wind-blown grains of sand, and one scam after another. Readers will encounter a protective whale, goats as oracles, and smitten soldiers who can't seem to maintain their focus on the primary concern which is solving the murder and finding Barnabas-perhaps the same thing?

Although the story is complex and the cast of outstanding characters large, readers will be vastly entertained by the strong writing, a rollicking pace a fine mystery and an excellent historical novel.


Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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