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From the PublisherThe year is 542. In Constantinople, the black plague has descended and is killing people by the thousands.
The Emperor Justinian has left the city and his palace for his estate in the country, away from the stench of death, where bodies are floated in boats into the harbor and set on fire. The only thriving businesses in the city are wine merchants and sellers of oracles and good luck charms. John, the Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, has remained behind.
Mary Reed and Eric Mayer's "Five for Silver," the fifth in a series featuring John the Eunuch, is a delight for fans of historical mysteries. When John's elderly servant, Peter, claims an angel has appeared to him and revealed the murder of a friend, John decides to look into things. Not because, as a devout Mithran he believes in Peter's Christian religion or the angelic messenger, but because he cares very much for Peter.
He determines that Peter's friend, Gregory, has been murdered, stabbed and left to die among those dead of the plague. Gregory, John soon discovers, was not what he seemed. As John walks the streets of the city, he finds himself in the company of whores, lawyers,
booksellers, soldiers and animal trainers, trying to ferret out the truth behind Gregory's murder.
Over everything hangs the pall of death as the plague kills indiscriminately. The city seems to have gone crazy. The Empress' pet bear is running loose and a mad holy man - the holy fool! - is creating scandal by dancing with the dead and breaking into the Empress' private bath.
When John's daughter arrives with an old friend, Thomas of Bretania, John's household begins to seem as crazy as the city outside. Peter, believing he has caught the plague, has locked himself in his room.
John's other servant, Hypatia, is volunteering at the hospital and appears to have fallen in love with one of her patients, a man who also may not be what he seems.
John is an intriguing character. A eunuch, he had once been a soldier, but he was captured by Persians, castrated and sold into slavery. Because he was an educated man, he was brought to the court of Justinian and put to work.
Over the years "John the Eunuch" rose through the tricky and often deadly politics of Justinian's palace to become the Emperor's chief advisor. He is a man who wields great power, but is very cautious how he uses it. His own religious convictions, if revealed, could lead to his death in the Christian Emperor's court.
In "Silver," the details of sixth century Constantinople are fascinating, yet so well-executed that they don't slow the pace of the story. Characters are cleverly drawn, each unique and individual, but clearly a product of their time and place. The mystery is properly byzantine, in every sense of the word, and will keep readers stumped to the final revelation.
Written with bone-dry wit and unexpected humor, "Five for Silver" is sure-fire entertainment. — Mark Terry, The Oakland Press, 4.4.2004