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Friday, July 2, 2010

A Great Trip Back in Time to the Byzantine!

I recently finished the latest Anne Perry mystery entitled The Sheen on the Silk. I must say is was quite a departure from her usual Victorian or WWI murder mysteries.

The story opens in Constantinople, Greece during the Byzantine era, to be exact, the year is 1273. It is 11 years after the Emperor Michael Palaeologus had led the people of Constantinople back from the surrounding provinces, where they had been driven almost 70 years before with the invasion of the European crusaders in 1204.
The fall of Constantinople


There has been a murder of a prominent citizen who was leading the outcry against the movement to reunite the Eastern Orthodox church with the Church in Rome. The sister (Anna Lascaris)of one of the conspirators in the murder (her twin, Justinian Lascaris), has arrived to try to prove her brothers innocence. Justinian has been exiled to a desert south of Jerusalem, near Sinai, as punishment for his part in the plot. The rub is that in order to find out information to prove her brothers innocence, Anna has to masquerade as a male eunuch who is also a physician (known as Anastasiaus Zarides). Anna and Justinian’s father had been a physician and had taught them both everything about medicine and so through her expertise she was able to get access to many of the great homes of Constantinople to gain information as to the truth behind the crime.
The fall of Constantinople in 1204
I think you could almost classify this as historical fiction instead of a murder mystery. There is an especially repulsive villain in Zoe Chrysaphes who is able to kill in a multitude of ways and never have any remorse. She is wickedly entertaining!
Constantinople

I have enjoyed reading Anne Perry books for several years. They do tend to be somewhat repetitive at times, but she weaves a great story and has some really good murders in them. This book was no different, in that the story was great, and I learned a lot about the conflict between the two churches and those who wanted to reunite them. Also, learning about the threats of renewed invasions to accomplish the reunification was interesting. I didn’t know much about the history of this area. I did feel that there was too much description of the city. I think she could have reduced the size of the book (515 pages) just by cutting out the repetition in the description of the sights, smells, and people of Constantinople.

I also felt that there were too many characters to keep track of, but that could have been helped with a little more description of what their jobs were. I had to keep referring to the list of characters at the front of the book. For example, I still didn’t know what a “doge” was by the end of the book, and there were 3 of them throughout the story (I did look it up, and found out it was, formally, the chief magistrate in the republics of Venice and Genoa), but that wasn’t explained in the book, unless I missed it. But maybe this complaint is more a problem of having a bad memory that I have, than it being a fault of the book.


Anne Perry

Anyway, with those complaints out of the way, it was still a very good story and a good read. I was impressed with Perry’s knowledge of the era. I wasn’t surprised by the history I learned, because Anne Perry is very thorough in her historical research of all the books she has written. In fact, most of what I know of WWI is from her five book mystery series covering that period of history.

Unlike her Thomas Pitt, and William Monk series, I don’t think there will be another in the “Byzantine” series since it really tied things up at the end, but if there was another, I will eagerly read it so I can find out what is happening in the main characters lives and in the city of Constantinople.

Let me know what you think if you have read it!

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