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by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer

Poisoned Pen Press, 2002 $24.95
ISBN: 1-59058-031-1

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

While this is fourth in the John the Eunuch series, it is a prequel to the first three books: ONE FOR SORROW; TWO FOR JOY; and THREE FOR A LETTER.

The time is 525 A.D., the place Constantinople, the exotic and mighty city that would one day be known as Istanbul. John, a former soldier who has been captured and enslaved, first crosses paths with the Emperor Justin, who is on his way out, his nephew and heir Justinian and the wily Theodora, who are both on their way up. The times are uncertain and dangerous.

Justin is dying, and his successor Justinian isnt doing too well either, suffering from a strange and mysterious malady. A rowdy gang of youths calling themselves the Blues have vanquished their rival gang, the Greens, and are now attacking the populace, clashing with the forces controlled by a murderous City Prefect nicknamed The Gourd. In the Great Church, the wealthy donor of a magnificent statue of Christ dies beneath the statue's benevolent gaze, and John and his charge, the Lady Anne, are almost knocked over by the three fleeing Blues who are assumed to be the killers.

Justinian, fearing the case may be more complicated, assigns John and Felix, one of Justins bodyguards, to find out the truth. They are to work under the orders of The Gourd, who is not a gentle taskmaster, to say the least.

John and Felix have to go through many harrowing experiences before the truth of the murder is revealed, crossing paths, and sometimes swords, with high and mighty politicians, businessmen, laborers, craftsmen, beggars, ladies of the evening, and a boy.

The colorful description of Constantinople is marvelous. The historical detail is meticulous, but never gets in the way of the story. I look forward to going backward and reading the first three books.

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