By Mary Reed and Eric Mayer
Our guests are the authors of the John the Lord Chamberlain historical mysteries. Visit their website for more information about their work.
Eight For Eternity is darker then the other novels in our series, even more so than Five For Silver, which was set during the Justianaic plague of 542, beginning with a man rescued alive from a pile of victims and including a character who dances with the dead.
We tend to write murder mysteries without a lot of blood. Murder is a messy business but not all mystery readers or writers want to dwell on that reality. Many prefer to concern themselves with the intellectual puzzle resulting from the physical murder.
So generally we keep gruesome events off the page, and those which must be mentioned for reasons of the plot are dealt with briefly. But when we decided to set our latest book during the Nika Riots in 532 we knew it would be necessary to describe the terror and horror inhabitants of Constantinople experienced for days as the city was torn apart by murder, looting, arson, and other crimes committed by mobs seeking to overthrow Emperor Justinian.
How to convey the mayhem without departing too far from the usual tone of the series? We solved the conundrum by placing many scenes at a distance from the rioting, behind the palace walls or several streets away. The violence is depicted as a kind of continual dull, distant roar -- a menacing rumble of an anguished populace gone mad -- with occasional crescendos of noise conveying the menace of mobs running wild as the city turns on itself.
Against that dark aural background we conveyed the horrors being perpetrated by using vignettes described with sparing details, sometimes only seen in passing, but always suggesting worse – a living human torch, a curtain of legs formed by a number of dead men hung from a balcony. This seemed to us to be a strong enough method of suggesting incidents of life and death in a city racked with violence.
History tells us that 30,000 rioters were slaughtered in the Hippodrome in one battle, but it is impossible to describe so many deaths. It is more effective to show individual horrors, one at a time.
There is only a single scene where slaughter is front and center, and that is a brief account of a pitched street, or rather alley, battle between imperial troops and rioters. Neither of us having been in such a situation, we attempted to describe what happens in that brief battle as experienced by Felix, a palace guard, in an almost detached manner, given in such circumstances fighters act from instinct and training and there is no time to think about maneuvers.
We did, however, set the stage for a book in which countless, mostly unseen, people would die, with a prologue from the point of view of a condemned man on his way to the gallows. We therefore dwelled at some length on the terror of death before any killing began.
We now throw open the discussion. Perhaps you agree it is not necessary to go into minute descriptions of blood and pain to convey this type of hellish setting, or do you favor more gore?