Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ExcerpTuesday: Mary Reed

The year is 548 and Empress Theodora is dead, the victim of cancer. Or so everyone in Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire, believes. Everyone except Emperor Justinian who orders John, his Lord Chamberlain, to find the murderer or suffer the consequences. John embarks on an impossible investigation. There is no sign of foul play, but many of the quarreling, backstabbing aristocrats at the imperial court had good reason to want Theodora dead. As if seeking a murderer who seems to be a figment of the emperor’s grief-deranged imagination isn’t difficult enough, John must also grapple with domestic upheavals. Will John be able to serve justice, his loved ones, and the emperor?

by Mary Reed & Eric Mayer


Theodora may have been dead to those at the Great Palace and to the
patrons of the inn within sight of the palace's bronze gates, but in
the empire beyond she still lived. Soldiers camped on the Persian
border traded coarse jokes about the former actress, thinking they
insulted a living woman. General Belisarius, beaten back by the Goths
in Italy, could continue to hope for a few days longer that the
empress might sway Justinian to send reinforcements. In Alexandria a
monophysite clergyman penned a homily on Theodora's piety, unaware
that she had already joined his heretical saints.
Now released into the city, word of her death flowed like a swiftly
lengthening shadow along Constantinople's thoroughfares. It reached
into taverns and baths, tenements and churches, bringing jubilation,
satisfaction, and even sorrow. Borne by worshipers, the shadow fell
across the encomium to her charitable works chiseled into the white
marble entablature of the church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, and on
the lips of a garrulous ferryman it passed over the whitened bones of
her enemies scattered against the sea walls beneath the waters of the
By nightfall Theodora would be dead to all who dwelt within the area
bound by the capital's land walls. Weeks would pass before she died at
the furthest outposts of the empire, from the Danube in the north and
Egypt in the south, from Lazica east of the Black Sea to the
westernmost part of the African Prefecture. She would go on living for
several extra days in Syria, thanks to John the Cappadocian, the
former official she so hated. News traveled slowly there because the
Cappadocian had substituted plodding mules for horses as a
money-saving measure.
Another John the late empress had hated, the Lord Chamberlain to
Emperor Justinian, turned away from the newly widowed ruler as the
brief meeting of the imperial council ended.
John the Eunuch, as many called him but never to his face, was in his
early fifties, a tall, lean Greek, clean-shaven, with high, sharp
cheekbones and sun-darkened skin. Age had not grayed his closely
cropped black hair. He wore deep blue robes made of the finest cloth,
adorned only by a narrow gold stripe along the hem. Dressed less
elegantly, he could have passed for the mercenary he had been as a
young man or a desert-dwelling hermit.
"John, please remain." The emperor spoke softly. His bland round and
slightly puffy face looked too calm to belong to a man standing beside
the body of his newly deceased wife.


The husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer published several short Lord Chamberlain detections in mystery anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to 1999's well-received One For Sorrow, the first full length novel about their protagonist. Nine For The Devil is the ninth entry in this award-winning historical mystery series.


jenny milchman said...

I absolutely love the first line, and love how relative is the concept of death in this excerpt. The series is a keeper and I am excited to catch up on it--now that I'm back to reading fiction, yay!

wormauld said...

I must buy this one and 7and 8. number nine looks as if it will be the best yet and I didn't think your books could get better as they are little gems.