In the eighth Bertrand McAbee mystery, McCaffrey’s (The Marksman’s Case, 2008, etc.) classics professor turned detective returns to unearth the forgotten secrets of the Byzantine Empire.
Stricken with terminal cancer, elderly Greek–American Alexei Kostadelos entrusts McAbee with an unusual mission: travel to Mt. Athos in Greece to pry some sensitive information out of Father Nicholas, a reclusive monk. Years ago when Alexei and Nicholas fought together in the Greek resistance against the occupying Nazis, they discovered a secret about the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Is it possible that the Byzantine emperor was not killed in the famous siege but instead took to the underground? With Alexei dying and Nicholas old and frail, this history-changing revelation is in danger of being lost to time unless scholarly McAbee can uncover proof in the form of artifacts buried on the island of Lesbos. He finds assistance in Jack, a shady, paranoid former military operative he employs for dirty work and muscle, and in Alexei’s niece, Yota, a temperamental archaeology professor with whom McAbee develops a subtle flirtation. A mysterious German with a decades-old connection to Alexei and a shadowy group of Romanian monks complicate matters. The genial, bookish McAbee finds himself in a world of intrigue, ruthlessness and covert action, circumstances that add depth to his character. It also provides some low-key comic moments: McAbee has a habit of fretting over his supply of digestive cookies and wandering off to visit museums and relics that have nothing to do with his mission. Yet McAbee’s curiosity combined with his iron-willed determination makes it unwise to underestimate him. The book feels most alive when it’s firmly in McAbee’s wheelhouse—studying documents on Constantinople, noting with interest the intricacies of Greek history and national character, and delving into the murky relations between the monks at Mt. Athos. When the novel turns to Jack’s action-oriented area of expertise, things feel a bit more perfunctory. Even so, McCaffrey’s mystery thrills with well-drawn characters, solid procedural details and strong storytelling.
Historical intrigue and well-narrated suspense make this adventure an absorbing mystery.