Nine for the Devil
This is the ninth and latest entry in the John the Eunuch series, set in the time of Justinian, the Eastern Roman emperor of the 6th century. John, a war veteran who was castrated after having fathered a daughter, serves as chamberlain to the emperor and is charged with investigating the death of Theodora, the colorful empress who has just died. Justinian wants him to prove that it was a murder. The star of the series has been Theodora, the former entertainer (or prostitute, depending on whom you believe), so vividly slandered in Procopius’s Secret History. Even after her death, the taverns of Constantinople are alive with stories of how she used geese to pick grain from her private parts. Like any good detective, John is guided by motive (almost everyone in the empire hated her and wanted her dead), method (which can only be poison because there are no marks of violence) and opportunity (which no one had because she was isolated within the palace).
Historic characters blend easily with the fictional creations, identified clearly in a character list in the beginning. John is a follower of Mithra, but he is discreet about it given the persecutions of the time. The history is accurate, and the mystery provides the reader with a number of clues, mostly deceptive. An entertaining read.