Another Review at MyShelf.Com

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Release Date: February 2003
ISBN: 1590580311
Format Reviewed: Advance Reader Copy (Hardcover)
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Genre: Historical Crime (Byzantium 525AD)
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes:

Four For a Boy
John the Eunuch Series, No. 3
By  Mary Reed & Eric Mayer  

      If, like me, you are a fan of the adventures of John the Eunuch, you may have wondered what his life was like before he became Lord Chamberlain, but he is such a secretive fellow. Now you will have a chance to find out as Four For a Boy goes back in time fourteen years to when he was a mere palace slave and hired out part time as a tutor to the studious Lady Anna, who nurtures a desire for him, as well as to learn Persian. This is a dark time for the people of Byzantium as groups of young thugs, supporters of the Blues chariot team, roam the streets terrorizing citizens, and the misshapen face of law and order, the City Prefect known as "The Gourd" dispenses his own brand of "justice". The old emperor Justin is dying, his successor Justinian lies gravely ill and everybody is muttering about his marriage to the ex-whore Theodora. Then a wealthy man who has commissioned a statue of Christ is murdered right in front of his newly-erected donation and John is sent off to find out whodunit, in reluctant company with German palace guard Felix.

     As readers have come to expect from this duo of writers, Byzantium springs to instant and vibrant life. It is a world where even the rich and powerful are never safe, beggars and thugs fill the streets, and life is cheap. A slave is viewed as a tool and manumission or a horrible death depends on the whim of the emperor or empress. This is the ancient world's last gasp, and it is always fascinating to read how the older religions, such as John's Mithraism, exist uneasily alongside Christianity, which is portrayed as seemingly fresh and new. As for the plot, I didn't guess whodunit and I doubt you will either; the plot and background complement each other well and weave in and out of each other like the strands of a complex tapestry. Too many historical whodunits present the actual story and its setting as two separate entities, but this is not a problem here. Theodora slinks around with the exotic malignancy of a Salammbo, old Justin looks for plotters under the bed and holds discussions with his late wife, a rich eccentric is constructing a pair of wings to allow him to fly like a bird and as ever, the enigmatic but compelling figure of John is in the middle of it all, throwing out casual references to a former life, replete with untold stories. Maybe we will get the chance to read a few more of them…I do hope so.

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