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Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Release Date: March 2004
ISBN: 1590581121
Format Reviewed: Hardback
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Genre:   Historical Crime [542, Byzantium]
Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes:  

Five For Silver
By Mary Reed & Eric Mayer

      John the Eunuch is back for a fifth (mis)adventure, the hapless Lord Chamberlin to that decadent pair Justinian and Theodora. Byzantium is in the grip of the plague, and chaos reigns as people die in droves; nobody is safe. John’s elderly servant Peter has seen an angel telling him that his old army friend Gregory has been murdered, and justice must be done. John naturally takes up the case, but interviewing suspects proves hard as they keep dying, and not because they have been murdered. Gregory was a man with a secret, and John’s investigations will take him to bear trainers, a dodgy antique seller, a philanthropic lawyer and the household of an oracle-obsessed ship-owner. Not to mention a mad holy fool who dances with the dead and invades Theodora’s bathroom…

    It isn’t easy to conjure up the terrible depredations of the plague, have a tragic hero and manage plenty of laughs as well but Reed & Mayer deliver the goods once again. The magnificence and squalor of Byzantium as the ancient world gives way to the modern is conveyed not with pages of descriptions but the characters themselves, their doings and beliefs, fears and passions. The secretive and melancholy John remains as tantalizingly elusive as ever, while his friends and colleagues bring humor and color to this plague-infested and tangled tale. Riding alongside the plot itself is the fifth chapter of the characters’ lives, loves and careers and it is this too that makes the series so very readable. In this particular novel some earlier faults such as a need for editing and repetition seem to have been ironed out so perhaps it is with even more anticipation that I eagerly await book six. An enjoyable, hard to guess and historically evocative treat.