TWO FOR JOY by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer (see their website)
A JOHN THE EUNUCH MYSTERY
Poisoned Pen Press, 2000
Always torn by religious and political dissent, Justinian's court is now threatened by a holy monk who threatens Byzantine society and the (Eastern) Roman Empire. When Michael the monk delivers on his promise to call down sacred fire, Emperor Justinian turns to John the Eunuch for help--or as a scapegoat if something goes wrong. As a follower of Mirthra, John can be conveniently blamed and executed if religious fanaticism gets out of hand.
John doesn't deny the possibility of miracles but he does wonder if a more natural explanation is possible. Yet what natural event could cause three holy men to burst into simultaneous and fatal flame? When Michael cures John's friend's illness, Michael's holiness seems assured. The longer Justinian delayes in welcoming Micheal into Constantinople, the more restive the population of the world's largest city becomes. When Justinian goes into seclusion to attempt a resolution of Michael's beliefs with orthodox faith, the Empress Theodora takes over--putting John at greater risk as Theodora distrusts him.
Mary Reed and Eric Mayer (see our other reviews of novels by these authors) fill TWO FOR JOY with a wealth of secondary characters: John's former tutor from Plato's Academy who insists on investigating himself, only to get into serious trouble; his pious servant and cook; his friend Anatolius, a fellow follower of Mirthra; as well as a runaway wife and an Egyptian madame. Still, it is John the Eunuch who dominates the story. By continuing the investigation into both the burned stylites (holy men who lived on pillars) and Michael, John risks the Emperor's displeasure and the mob's violence. Yet he is compelled to find the truth. With just enough back story to add character depth, John makes a fine sleuth.
TWO FOR JOY is set in one of the most interesting and important historical periods. Justinian was the last man until Napoleon to re-unite so much of the Roman emperor. Under him, Constantinople truly was the center of the world and the Emperor equal to the apostles. Reed and Mayer apply their history with a light touch adding spice to the mystery without weighing it down. In contrast, the subplot of the run-away wife was somewhat contrived as a rare blemish an otherwise finely plotted and well crafted novel.
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