Eric Mayer and Mary Reed published several short stories about John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, before John's first novel length adventure appeared in 1999. The American Library Association’s Booklist Magazine named the novels one its four Best Little Known Series. Murder in Megara is the eleventh entry in the series, appearing in October 2015. Learn more about Eric and Mary at their website.
Doubtless many readers will recall childhood fun making mosaics from fragments of painted eggshells, and a messy business it was too!
The Romans were masters of the essentially similar but vastly larger enterprise of creating beautiful floors made of pebbles, stone, and marble pieces, often framing intricate patterned borders around abstract designs or those featuring mythological and other figures. But the highest point of the mosaicists' art must surely be wall mosaics, created from thousands of small cubes of glass and other materials. At their glorious height in the Byzantine world, these mosaics dazzled worshippers in churches, Ravenna and Constantinople in particular, whose mosaics were and are world famous for their beauty and the amazing way tesserae are used to depict subtly graduated colors of garments, buildings, and artifacts, as well as details of facial features.
Our historical mystery series is devoted to the adventures of John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian I, in and round the imperial court in Constantinople -- although we have sent him to Egypt to look into the matter of the suicidal sheep and in Murder In Megara he is tasked with solving the murder of which he is accused. All of the covers for these books are illustrated with mosaics.
We introduced the mosaicist Figulus in Seven For A Secret. His artistic hand had, however, been seen in the series right from the beginning entry, One For Sorrow, as it is revealed in Seven For A Secret he created the mosaic in John's study. By daylight it depicts a bucolic landscape in which a young girl stands near two boys playing knucklebones, but flickering lamplight reveals a debauched heaven peopled by Roman gods and goddesses.
John calls this little girl Zoe and often has conversations with her, much to the horror of his elderly servant Peter, who is further scandalized by the revelations lamplight produces.
As a family man and devout Christian, Figulus detests making the vile mosaics popular among certain of the rich, but undertakes them in order not only to feed and house his wife and children but also to finance his ambitious project in the course of creation in a sub basement, shown to John and his friend Anatolius.
The project is nothing less than a mosaic history of the world beginning with the formless void, moving on to the expulsion from Eden, and continuing from there. As Figulus explains "...tesserae are expensive. I could not afford this except for those evil pictures. It is a torment to me to make them. But I am not responsible for the lusts and sinfulness of other men and here their vices are transmuted into a tribute to God's glory."
As for the way the scene in John's study mosaic changes when seen by lamplight, Figulus reveals he discovered the method and it is accomplished by cutting tesserae to certain angles and painting one side of them.
Tesserae, the miniature building blocks of wall mosaics, were manufactured from glass of various colors and shadings, although marble tesserae and the use of semi-precious gems was not unknown. Shimmering gold backgrounds were made by affixing thinly beaten gold leaf to a sheet of glass and then covering the gold with a thin layer of glass, in effect making a gold leaf sandwich, cutting up the sheet into cubes to use as tesserae.
The process of creating a mosaic began by spreading a small area of fine plaster over a wall whose roughened plaster had hardened, setting tesserae into the wet second layer as it dried. Naturally this meant only a small amount of laborious work could be accomplished at each session, and some days were not suitable because it was too hot or too cold for the painstaking process to be completed successfully. Guidelines for the scene were lightly painted on, and it has been suggested stencils may also have been used.
The effect of weather on his work was used by Figulus as he constantly attempted to avoid working again on the completed study mosaic, commissioned by the previous owner of John's house. Finally, the former owner refused to believe Figulus when he said winter was not the best time for the work in that the plaster might not set correctly. So the mosaicist was forced to amend the mosaic -- by adding a portrait of the owner's little girl.
Figulus did however manage to protect her innocence in a fashion only he as a mosaicist could have done. How? Well, you'll have to read Seven For A Secret to find out!
photo caption: Mosaic of the Emperor Justinian from the Basiilica of San Vitale.
Murder In Megara
John, former Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, has been exiled from Constantinople to a rustic estate John has long-owned in Greece, not far from where he grew up. But exile proves no escape from mystery and mayhem. The residents of nearby Megara make it plain John and his family are unwelcome intruders. His overseer proves corrupt. What of the other staff—and his neighbors?
Before long, John finds himself accused of blasphemy and murder. Now a powerless outsider, he’s on his own, investigating and annoyingly hampered by the ruthless and antagonistic City Defender who serves Megara as both law enforcer and judge. Plus there’s that corrupt estate overseer, a shady pig farmer, a servant’s unwelcome suitor, a wealthy merchant who spends part of his time as a cave-dwelling hermit, and the criminals and cutthroats populating such a seedy port as Megara.
Complicating matters further are two childhood friends whose lives have taken very different paths, plus the stepfather John hated. John realizes that in Megara, the solution to murder does not lie in the dark alleys where previous investigations have taken him, but in a far more dangerous place—his own past. Can he find his way out of the labyrinth of lies and danger into which he has been thrust before disaster strikes and exile turns into execution?