I generally think of this series of in terms of excellent storytelling, a Golden Age feel
to the writing, and a you-are-there vividly accurate depiction of a very different place
and time. In other words, civilized entertainment providing a great escape from today and its
problems. Civilized only up to a point of course; these are murder mysteries. And while
John himself is a civilized person, thatís not so true of the milieu or people around him. Which
means thereís plenty of danger and action in there too, as much in the current book as any.
What I donít necessarily think of is grab-you-by-the-throat-and-donít-let-go openings. Not
until I read Eight for Eternity, that is. No, Iím not going to spoil things with the details,
but no matter what your usual reading, if you arenít thoroughly engaged by the end of that opening
scene, you probably need to be checked for a pulse.
The Nika (Victory) riots of 532 were part of real life history. John finds himself caught in
the middle of both the violent riots and the equally dangerous court politics around them. Urged on
by Johnís superior, who is jealous of his own position, and the glittering malice of his Empress,
Emperor Justinian makes John responsible for finding the ringleaders of the revolt, for discovering
the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of two of them, and for keeping secure the family the
rioters would set in Justinianís place. All of which is made nearly impossible by the riot-filled
streets. Failure, however. is not a survivable option.
This is a fascinating depiction of a time in Byzantine history I knew little about, wrapped around
some satisfying puzzles. Interesting characters, a colorful setting and non-stop action offered up in
lucid, eminently readable prose: there are good reasons this is one of my favorite historical mystery
series. I also found the glossary at the end very useful (yes, I know, but they arenít always).† I
do have one small quibble, to do with the publisher rather than the authors, and I'm posting it mainly
to save other readers confusion. I wish the cover blurbs made it clear this is to some degree a prequel.
Some of what was inside had me scratching my head until I actually looked up the setting for prior
books and compared the dates.