Five for Silver

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Five for Silver is the fifth of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer’s mysteries featuring John the Eunuch, sixth century Chancellor to the Roman Emperor Justinian. In this installment John’s elderly servant Peter, a Christian, has a vision of an angel bearing the cryptic message: “Gregory. Murder. Justice.” John soon discovers that Peter’s old friend Gregory has indeed been stabbed to death.

Just before his death Gregory was one of seven witnesses to the oral will of Nereus, a successful businessman who was dying of the plague. On his deathbed Nereus changed his will to disinherit his son; his servants invited an assortment of strangers off the street to witness the spoken will.

While the plague rages through Constantinople, John knocks on doors, trying to identify the seven witnesses, find Nereus’s wayward son, and discover a connection between the will and Gregory’s murder. He interviews prostitutes, bear trainers, soldiers and servants, a man who sells epigrams and poetry, another who carves tombs, and a Holy Fool whose shocking public behavior is meant to expose hypocrisy.

Reed and Mayer devote loving attention to historically accurate modes of business, expressions of social status, costumes, religious beliefs, humor, and wordplay. Although the murder mystery is less compelling than the setting, the historical details are well- researched and lend an enjoyable authenticity to the tale, from the horrors of the plague to the sights, sounds, and smells of the increasingly deserted city. A glossary is provided to explain colloquial expressions and place historical figures in context.