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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Three for a Letter (John the Eunuch, #3) - Mary Reed, Eric Mayer Rating: 3* of five The Book Description: High jinx in the imperial court mixes with lowlife in Constantinople's mean streets..."If the perfect historical mystery is one that uses the past to let us see the present from a new angle, then this is darned close to being the perfect historical mystery."--Booklist (starred review for Two for Joy)It is 539 AD and as the reconquest of Italy draws toward its close, a pair of eight-year old twins descended from the last Ostrogothic king have become valuable pawns in Emperor Justinian's plans to restore the glory of Rome. Unfortunately, during the performance of a play at a banquet honoring the two young diplomatic hostages, death makes an entrance and claims one brother.Then Empress Theodora's favorite mime vanishes and John, Lord Chamberlain to Justinian, is ordered to find both the missing mime and the murderer.In this third John the Eunuch novel, his investigations are hampered by squabbling courtiers, servants harboring social ambitions, an eccentric host, and an egotistic inventor, not to mention the complications posed by a herd of prophesying goats and a protective whale. His friends the Mithran Anatolius and the excubitor captain Felix only add to John's worries when they fall under the spell of two ambitious women. Can the trio avoid Theodora's wrath as they work to protect a child and stop a heartless killer? It is uncertain whether the solution lies within the villa where all have assembled or back in Constantinople--or in some other world altogether. My Review: I was robbed! Hours and hours of my life, robbed from me as John and Anatolius careen from pillar to post and do very little of any interest! I was subjected to the drear and dull prattlings of an eight-year-old with an overactive imagination, a poor sense of self-preservation, and a somewhat appalling callousness! I want those eyeblinks back!Characters are summoned forth, do next to nothing, and vertiginously disappear. Some amazing coincidences are mooted, and then dismissed, and then lo and behold come back again as faits accomplis. Oh the humanity, he said, as the Constantinopolitan Hindenburg burns.So Theodora, Imperial Wench of the First Water, is getting no image burnishment here, and one wonders why the authors don't do more with her. At the moment, she's a cardboard cut-out of a mean girl. My long-term interest in a mystery series is bound up in the characters the author(s) develop for me to invest in and follow with interest. John the Eunuch is interesting, but the other players are becoming tiresome. Reduced by a vastly overcomplicated plot with more coincidences than even Shakespeare would feel comfortable perpetrating on his miserable, long-suffering audiences to broad-strokes walk-ons, Felix (the equivalent of the police lieutenant all detectives know) and Anatolius (well-placed and wealthy young sidekick) come off as boring one-note lech-boys; Hypatia (salvaged serving girl) as a cipher; and Peter (wise old fool/servant to John) as a foolish old man. The suspects, too numerous to enumerate, don't take shape at all. Theodora, see above. Eeeaaarrrgh! So why three stars, with this litany of whinges and bitches? For this line:John did not press {the suspect} further. It had struck to him on more than one occasion that the Christians' rigid insistence on their god's exclusive sway, so at odds with human nature, would finally prove to be their undoing.(p317, hardcover edition)Fifteen hundred years on is a looong finally, but permaybehaps it's coming to be. I live in hope that it is true, that my shining City on a Hill of Jesuslessness is at last in sight.In the meantime, the series bought itself one more shot. One. And it had better count.