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THREE FOR A LETTER
by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer
Poisoned Pen Press, December 2001
242 pages
$24.95
ISBN: 1890208825


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

John the Eunuch is at a banquet in honor of Empress Theodora at Zeno's country estate. Zeno delights in mechanical contrivances and has had a pneumatic whale made up to swallow Jonah (Theodora's favorite dwarf, Barnabas), and disgorge him, as part of the banquet entertainment. But something goes horribly wrong, and, instead of Barnabas leaping out of Porphyrio's mouth, the body of an eight year old boy, is discovered inside. Barnabas is nowhere to be seen. Theodora commands John to find him.

Royal Ostrogoth children, Gadaric and Sunilda, eight year old fraternal twins, are hostages to Justinian and Theodora, and, with General Belisarius at the gates of Ravenna, Italy is almost back within the Christian Byzantine Empire, However, somehow, Gadaric snuck out past his nursemaid, and ended up with his throat crushed inside the belly of the whale, and Justinian send John and Felix back to Zeno's estate with orders to protect the surviving girl at all costs.

Most of our old favorite characters reappear and there are a slew of new ones: Minthe, the strange woman who lives in a converted chapel, who knows herbal remedies and appears to be a friend to the children; Paul, the old fisherman who has become a gardener; the keeper of the goats on Goat Island. (The goats move around as they graze and if you ask them a question, Minthe will give you an answer, based on their grazing patterns, as seen from the mainland. No one has ever gotten past the beach on Goat Island and lived.) Castor and Zeno, owners of adjacent country estates. Castor is a scholar and Zeno is more of a dilettante.

Theodora is just waiting for an excuse to have John killed, but Justinian knows the value of his Chamberlain. John will be able to save Sunilda from the same fate as her brother, but his maneuverings through the various layers of the puzzle maintain our interest to the end. Although this book is the third in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone. FOUR FOR A BOY, the prequel, is due out in late winter of 2003.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, November 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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