Seven for a Secret

Seven for a Secret by Mary Reed & Eric Mayer. I recently read a Wall Street Journal article about self-talking in the office in which “researchers say as many as 96% of people talk to themselves aloud.” Obviously, this is not a new phenomenon as John, the Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian in 6th century Constantinople, spends hours talking to the image of a young girl found in the mosaic that adorns a wall of his study. He’s named the girl Zoe and though others may think his conversations a bit crazy, John knows he’s really just talking to himself. Everything changes when a young woman bearing a striking resemblance to Zoe approaches him in a public courtyard and asks to meet him the following day. When John finds her murdered body in an underground cistern, he feels obligated to avenge her death. His investigations lead him into the dark underbelly of the city, populated by those who have been exiled from court by the emperor or his treacherous wife, Theodora. These ex-courtiers and officials struggle to survive, grasping onto rumors and plotting against the palace. Their outright lies and hidden secrets make John’s task all the more difficult and eventually lead him into dangerous situations, where even old friends may not be all they seem.

This seventh book in the series from the married writing team of Reed and Mayer is more self-contained than some of the others. John has always been the primary character, but the recurring secondary characters of his lover, Cornelia, servant, Peter, and palace captain, Felix, play much smaller, though important, roles in this adventure than in previous episodes. And we don’t see the emperor or his wife at all, nor do we see the rest of John’s family. Despite the lack of character development, this new perspective of the city is interesting and the plot quite complex and enjoyable.

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