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Three for a Letter: A John the Eunuch Mystery Hardcover – December 1, 2001
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From Publishers Weekly
John, Lord Chamberlain to the Emperor Justinian, continues his sixth-century A.D. adventures in this third worthy installment (following One for Sorrow and Two for Joy), in which nimble wits are required not to keep one's job but to keep one's head. John's position is particularly fragile since Justinian's support is notoriously fickle and his consort, the beautiful and dangerous Theodora, despises John. When an entertainment devised for Theodora results in the death of a young royal hostage and the disappearance of Barnabas, the empress's favorite dwarf, John is once again charged with the difficult and delicate task of ferreting out the truth. He is also charged with protecting the life of the remaining hostage, eight-year-old Sunilda, a task made even more daunting by the child's recklessness. Set not in Constantinople but on the nearby estate of a wealthy noble, the authors' latest mystery combines a finely nuanced historical background with a plot of great subtlety. The details of daily life, from food and food preparation to the care and writing of manuscripts, enhance the action. And the ongoing struggle between Christianity (Justinian's state religion) and the pagan rites that play a central role in the plot is particularly well drawn. If there's any flaw it's that John, while a sympathetic protagonist, is too self-contained to really arouse the reader's passions. Nonetheless, those who appreciate strong historical backgrounds and solid plotting will get their money's worth. The Byzantine mosaic art on the jacket is a real plus.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* Return with us now to sixth-century Constantinople (A.D. 539, to be precise), where two politically important, eight-year-old twins are key players in Emperor Justinian's plans to resurrect the crumbling Roman Empire. However, the emperor's plans seem doomed when one of the twins is murdered. Enter John the Eunuch, the emperor's Lord Chamberlain, to save the day and, he hopes, the empire. This is the third John the Eunuch novel (after One for Sorrow, 1999, and Two for Joy, 2000), and it continues the authors' record of creating near-perfect historical mysteries. These novels are charming mixtures of humor, intrigue, and period detail. Like Ellis Peters and Lindsey Davis (whose own novels are also set in Roman times, although centuries earlier), Reed and Mayer have a solid grasp of the era they are writing about. This helps them avoid the all-too-common failing of historical mysteries: lecturing. It's easy to tell a reader all sorts of things about a particular historical period; it's a lot harder to know what not to tell. Characters in the John the Eunuch novels don't spend time telling each other things they already know, for the benefit of the reader: Reed and Mayer educate us in more subtle ways, and we're having so much fun following the story that we don't even realize we're learning things. An excellent entry in an excellent series. David Pitt
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Top customer reviews
The story is set in 539 when Justinan's brilliant general Belisarius is besieging the Ostrogoth capital of Ravenna. Two young potential heirs to the Ostrogoth throne are guests on Zeno's estate outside of Constantinople and one turns up dead. Theodora directs John to solve the crime and he knows he must do so or feel the wrath of "imperial whim".
As John puzzles out the mystery, Mary Reed and Eric Mayer treat us to descriptions of estate life in the country and to theatrical production with a Greek mechanic who creates "automations". The unusual time and settings continue to make this historical mystery series a treat to read.
John's much earlier first case solved when he was still a slave, seemed tedious and predictable by comparison.
John, Lord Chamberlain to the Emperor, questions the maker of the mechanical whale, Hero. The inventor assures him that the boy's death was not an accident. John sets out to find out who wanted Gadaric dead - and why.
In this third book of the John the Eunuch series, the saga of the man whose life was changed forever when he was captured and disfigured by slave traders, continues within the richness of a time and place where most readers have never ventured. It is 539 AD, and the story is set in Constantinople, a place full of magic, mysticism and mayhem. John is a unique blend of loyalty, conscience, and depth. Readers will find him to be someone they want to know more about. He is an appealing character from the past, who transitions well into the present.
As always, Mary Reed and Eric Mayer have presented us with a wonderful gift in THREE FOR A LETTER. Readers who love history will be enchanted, while readers who enjoy mystery will be enthralled.
I can't say enough about John the Eunuch, and about the authors who have given us this breathtaking series.
I highly recommend THREE FOR A LETTER, right along with its predecessors, ONE FOR SORROW, and TWO FOR JOY.
Authors Mary Reed and Eric Mayer succeed in the challenging triple task of building an interesting character, providing believable historical material (why else would we read a historical mystery), and making the mystery itself exciting. THREE FOR A LETTER combines one of the most interesting periods of history--the period immediately after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and before the emergence of Islam in the East--with truly three dimensional characters, especially John himself. Reed and Mayer's light touch will bring up some smiles to round out a terrific novel.
Any fan of historical mysteries, especially mysteries set in the more distant past, will welcome the JOHN THE EUNUCH stories. THREE FOR A LETTER is the third in the series but these novels may be read in any order.