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by Tom Harper
St Martin's Minotaur, June 2005
304 pages
ISBN: 0312338678

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Demetrios the Apokalyptor is a private investigator or 'solver of mysteries' in medieval Byzantium. He is not an overly aggressive investigator but is very competent and methodical. One day he is escorted from his house to the palace. Someone attempted to kill the Emperor but only managed to kill his bodyguard.

The murder weapon is a new weapon with a point that has the ability to pierce armor. The palace guard has never seen or heard of this type of weapon before. Obviously, this weapon threatens the entire nation, not just the Emperor. Whoever has this weapon has the ability to kill anyone they desire.

Demetrios is hired to find both the weapon and the person who has one. His duty is to stop the assassin from striking again but also to prevent the weapon from falling into their enemies' hands.

This is not an easy or safe task. Luckily, he has help in the form of Sigurd, a Varangian. The Varangian are a conquered people, who are known for their loyalty to the Emperor and their willingness to fight. As Demetrios begins his investigation, he becomes grateful for their assistance.

The trail that points to the killer wanders through the back alleys of the empire. Demetrios will find himself dealing with pimps, mercenaries, princes and slaves before finding the necessary clues that point to the killer. In addition, he must be on the lookout for the lies and betrayals of his allies. Demetrios must risk his life and those of his family in order to stop a killer and save the empire.

THE MOSAIC OF SHADOWS is written in first person narrative. This causes the book to start off slowly as Demetrios is not an immediately appealing character. While he is not necessarily unappealing, he seems very cautious and unassuming; hence, it is difficult to get a feel of his character and beliefs.

Once the reader progresses through the first couple of chapters, the story becomes much more interesting. The Byzantine Empire is multicultural and many of these different cultures and ideas are apparent in the story and in Demetrios' investigation. By exploring the different cultural elements of the Byzantine Empire the author shows the Empire's role in history. Harper also shows that a person's beliefs and ideals have the ability to completely cloud one's thinking and create both monsters and saints.

As THE MOSAIC OF SHADOWS is told from Demetrios' perspective, the other characters are not well developed. The reader can only see them as well as Demetrios does. While he is a good investigator, he does not always see what goes on around him in his personal life. By focusing on the crime and the investigation, the actual people involved in the story are left in the background.

It would be interesting to see how his daughters and Sigurd truly viewed the events and the investigation. While they are involved at least on the periphery, no attention is paid to their ideas and the actions they would recommend.

THE MOSAIC OF SHADOWS is the first book in the Byzantine mystery series. This is the first printing of this book in the US; it has been previously released internationally.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, March 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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