The aging emperor, Justin, is increasingly infirm and his nephew and heir, Justinian, is sick. As a result, the city of Constantinople is convulsed by doubt and riots. The Blues (one of the racing factions that battled in the streets of the greatest city in the world) rule the streets, suppressed only by the police authorities who have become increasingly violent. When a rich man is murdered, the senators are quick to point the finger at Justinian. Justinian may be sick (he believes he's being poisoned), but he isn't stupid. He asks a slave, John the Eunuch, to help investigate.
What John finds seems to point the finger more directly at Justinian. Because there is a conspiracy at work, and the victim seems to have been involved with the conspirators. Yet John, accompanied by the royal bodyguard, Felix, suspects that they are missing something. That suspicion becomes more deeply seated when John and Felix are nearly killed by professional assassins. Somehow, John has to get to the bottom of the mystery, ensure that the results don't reflect badly on his patron, and prevent riots from destroying the city. It's a lot to ask a slave.
Authors Mary Reed and Eric Mayer write convincingly of Constantinople in one of its most famous and dangerous periods. Christianity is the legal religion, but pagan and Mithraism remain strong (if illegal) forces. Christianity itself is violently divided by clashing beliefs about the nature of Jesus's divinity--a clash that the Emperor must often play a role in healing. In a few years, Justinian will undertake his epic and doomed quest to restore the Roman Empire--but only if he can survive.
Set fifteen years before the earlier novels in this series, FOUR FOR A BOY is both enjoyable and fascinating. Anyone interested in this critical timeframe, or interested in a good historical mystery, will want to read this book.