Rating: 3.75* of five The Book Description: Reed and Mayer combine the scholarship of Steven Saylor with the humor of Lindsey Davis. Starred review in Booklist December 2000.It is now two years after One For Sorrow, and John the Eunuch, Lord Chamberlain to the Emperor Justinian, is faced with a new and byzantine problem: why are Constantinople's holy stylites bursting into flames as they stand atop their pillars? His investigations are hampered by a pagan philosophy tutor from his youth and a heretical Christian prophet whose ultimatums threaten to topple the Empire.Then murder strikes close to home and John has only days to find a solution before he, his friends, his Emperor, and the city itself are destroyed. The sumptuous halls of the Great Palace and the riot-torn streets are filled with the same danger and deception. A colorful cast of characters that includes a runaway wife, servants and soldiers, madams and mendicants, a venomous court page and a wealthy landowner or two -- not to mention John's bete noire, the Empress Theodora -- adds texture to this rich, exotic tale of sixth century life and mysterious death. My Review: A whole half star above the first book! Added because the series has a footing now, and the conflict leading to the murder is not as far-fetched, and the identity of the murderer and motives of same are a lot more surprising to me than in the first book.Clearly there is no way I can claim to know that the authors have evoked exactly the atmosphere of sixth-century Constantinople, but they have managed to create an intense and lively picture of it in my mind, and that will serve me admirably.The eunuch chamberlain, John, has some wonderfully imagined character traits. I like that he's not a Christian, but his servant is, and therefore the servant is allowed to be open in his faith where his Mithraist master must skulk and hide. I like that John the Eunuch is repulsed by other eunuchs, feeling the responses of the man he was before his maiming even yet. I like that John is a wise counselor to many, a good friend to a few, and a serious political animal of the (forgive, please) byzantine court of Justinian and Theodora.All of those traits play into John's solution to this complex and interrelated series of deaths, bringing them all back to the machinations of...and here's the reason for under four stars...previously unseen agency. The cause of the crimes is believable, the source of the actions taken is simply not a factor well enough developed for my mystery-reader's sense of fair play. Often in a murder or series of murders, the brains and the hands are located within separate bodies, and I feel it's only fair to make that possible for the attentive reader to deduce.Still and all, I felt the nature of the story and the degree of narrative development between books one and two made this an enticement to move on to book three and hope for even more.