Constantinople intrigue during the reign of Justinian and Theodora.
Among the mosaics on the walls of the palace lodgings where John the Lord Chamberlain has lived for the past ten years, the portrait of a young girl he calls Zoe especially intrigues him. He often speaks to it, reasons with it, confides in it. So when he’s walking in a courtyard outside the palace and a young woman who looks like a grown-up version of Zoe whispers that she must meet him the next night, he agrees. But at the rendezvous he finds her strangled body, slathered in red dye that almost eclipses a telltale tattoo. Soon John is questioning the artist who rendered the mosaic for the lodging’s former residents, the tax collector Glykos, his wife and his daughter Agnes. Was Zoe really Agnes? The byzantine tale wends past a purveyor of antiquities, Glykos’ brother the sausage maker, various seditious groups and a passel of actresses-cum-prostitutes. Did Agnes/Zoe’s death stem from an attempt to depose Justinian? Darker forces lead to another murder and spawn rumors of an illegitimate child borne by Theodora. Plotters are everywhere. Ditto assailants. And there will be yet another deception before John understands the Zoe/Agnes scenario.
Meanders from brothels to copper markets to public baths and poetry readings, each rife with all the gossip, rumor, deceit and lewdness you’d expect from one of the Lord Chamberlain’s cases (Six for Gold, 2005, etc.).