Who killed the Roman Senator, and why are the Egyptian sheep slitting their own throats?
In his sixth mystery, Emperor Justinian’s Lord Chamberlain, John the Eunuch—a misleading moniker, as this sometime sleuth has a wife, a daughter and regular carnal relations—stands accused of the Hippodrome murder of Senator Symacchus. Few doubt that the charge is a frame-up engineered by the Empress Theodora, long jealous of John’s close relationship with her husband. Even so, it seems like the perfect time for a long journey. So Justinian orders John to Egypt, where the sheep of a wealthy landowner named Melios are reportedly beheading themselves. Officially, the visit is connected to the investigation of Symacchus’ murder, but it’s really the emperor’s effort to derail his wife’s revenge plot. John (Five for Silver, 2004, etc.) sets sail with his wife Cornelia and his faithful manservant Peter. Meanwhile, court dandy Anatolius, another favorite on Theodora’s hit list, investigates in Rome and learns that Symacchus’ head servant Achilles has just disappeared. In Egypt, John finds that Melios’ sheep appear to be cutting their own throats on fence wire. It’s less bizarre than self-beheading but still baffling. He probes deeper, blithely unaware that Theodora has likely dispatched an assassin to Egypt, where animal antagonists rival humans.
A busy historical mystery with an engagingly wry tone. Many detours, but getting there is most of the fun.