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On The Horns of Death

On The Horns of Death, April 2024
An Ancient Crete Mystery
by Eleanor Kuhns

Severn House
Featuring: Martis
ISBN: 1448310881
EAN: 9781448310883
Kindle: B0CB8W7CQH
Hardcover / e-Book
Add to Wish List


"Bull-jumpers in Crete live with the chance of death - but not murder"

Fresh Fiction Review

On The Horns of Death
Eleanor Kuhns

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted July 5, 2024

Mystery Historical | Mystery Woman Sleuth

We return to Ancient Crete, 0 BC, the setting of the previous mystery about Martis and the bull-jumpers.  Many of the characters from In The Shadow of The Bull find themselves ON THE HORNS OF DEATH. The active and dangerous sport of bull-jumping is part of both, culture and religion, with young people winning favour and sometimes riches.


Martis previously investigated the untimely death of her sister Arge on her wedding day. Now, she is horrified when first, a captive pirate who opted to try bull-jumping rather than punishment is found dead, then some of the girls who are or were involved in bull-jumping also die. Could someone be picking off the athletes? Is it a deliberate offence to the Goddess, or pure jealousy? Martis finds Duzi, the pirate, who was actually afraid of the large aurochs bulls, dead, perhaps trampled, in the white bull’s pen. The sport must continue, using a black bull until matters are sorted out. But Martis and Timon, the Queen’s consort, think Duzi was killed and left in the pen. In the absence of a police system, they have to do the work of investigating.


The town of Knossos, the capital of Crete, is well realised, and we also go outside to the farming estates and woodland temples. Mostly the people are shown eating flatbread, fruit, cheese and meat, and they also have fish and wine, and honeyed pastries. This is the harvest time of year, shortly followed by planting season for grain. The devout people believe in the importance of celebrating properly and making appropriate sacrifices. Fortunately, the Consort is no longer killed annually, and Martis has a serious crush on Timon, who seems to find her annoying.


Once more the sad ghost of sister Arge visits Martis in her dreams, talking about the deaths. We spend more time with their mother Nephele, a weaver who hopes Martis will take up this respectable trade. And even Martis can see that she can’t jump over bulls for many more years. While Martis is shown as sixteen, girls married early and could expect a couple of children before they were twenty. Society gave women much freedom, but children would confine the independent young woman to the home. She has a lot of thinking to do. And she has to survive a potential killer.


Eleanor Kuhns has created a fabulously detailed world, with many insights into life in Knossos, in the Ancient Crete Mysteries. ON THE HORNS OF DEATH deserves reading by mystery and history fans alike. 


Learn more about On The Horns of Death


Ancient Crete, 1450 BC. Young bull leaper Martis finds Duzi, the newest member of the bull leaping team, dead in the bull pen early one morning. Made to look like he met his end on the horns of the bull, it's clear to Martis that this was no accident . . .

Martis once again finds herself thrown into a dangerous game of hunting down a murderer as the deaths start to mount. An old friend of Martis' sister, and possible lover to Duzi, is the next person to be found dead, and Martis' investigations lead her to believe love and jealousy are at the heart of these crimes against the Goddess.

Is someone targeting the bull leaping community? Or is there something else at play? With only the Shade of her sister Arge to confide in, Martis struggles to untangle the growing web of secrets which stretches around her.


Taking a deep breath, I rubbed my sweaty hands on my loincloth. ‘Go, go, go,’ chanted the crowd. I could smell the bull’s pungent musk and somebody’s heavy Egyptian perfume. The bull pawed the ground and grunted twice before breaking into a run. I had no time to think. He was right in front of me. I sprinted forward, automatically reaching out for those ivory spikes, my body instinctively moving into the proper position. The bull tossed his head, and I went flying, landing perfectly on his broad back. Arphaia reached out for me. I took her hand and jumped down, my legs suddenly trembling as my body realized how careless I’d been. As I reeled to the side of the ring, I scolded myself for allowing Duzi’s death to distract me. I would have plenty of time to think about it after the end of the ceremony. If I survived.

‘What happened to you?’ Elemon asked, his hazel eyes focused on me. ‘You looked Goddess-touched.’

‘I was thinking,’ I replied stiffly.

‘Well, don’t think anymore. You’ll get yourself killed.’

I turned away and watched Tryphone run toward the bull’s horns. He executed a perfect flip over the back.

‘I want to try,’ said Costi. I eyed him disdainfully. He was only thirteen, a mere child. An orphan, Costi had arrived unexpectedly during the summer and volunteered.

‘All right,’ Geos said now. ‘But later. After the bull tires.’

Elemon and I exchanged a glance, both of us wondering if this was a wise decision by Geos. Costi could do the jump – but he was so fearless he could get hurt.

‘Why don’t you spell Arphaia and catch?’ Geos added. ‘For a little while. I need her here, leaping.’ Without Duzi. The unsaid words hovered in the air.

Ah, I thought. That made more sense. Tryphone and Elemon performed second and third jumps, their last performances sloppy. They were already tiring, and after another few jumps they would be exhausted. Arphaia would make a good substitute, gawky though she might be.

The bull looked as though he would never tire. Younger than the white bull, and not as seasoned, he ran at us with aggressive energy. I shivered a little but told myself I was merely chilly because the breeze was drying the perspiration on my body.

Grumbling, Costi trotted into the ring. Arphaia, her face split with a wide smile, joined us in the line.

‘Martis. Go.’

I moved into position for my second jump and stared at the bull. One would think that after bull leaping so many times I wouldn’t be afraid. But I was. The massive beast tossed his head, and I began my sprint. He ran for me, those fearsome horns pointed right at me. A few seconds mistimed, a few steps too far to the right or left, and a bull dancer could be speared by those horns. Although cropped and blunted, they could still cause a lot of damage. I focused, reaching out until I grasped the horns, and the bull threw me high into the air. Although I feared the bull and his horns, I loved this part and always wished my flight through the air would last longer.

It seemed to me that I did not soar as high this time. Maybe the beast was finally tiring.

Geos must have seen that as well. He moved Arphaia to the front of the line.

She was the last to jump. Instead of soaring like an eagle, she lumbered through the air as ungainly as a pelican. Laughter rippled through the audience.

Arphaia landed badly as well, sliding off the bull’s back. Despite Costi’s best efforts to hold her, she crashed to the ground. As the handlers rushed into the ring and she limped to her feet, I saw she was weeping with frustration.

Tinos leaned over and spoke to the High Priestess. She did not look at him, nodding slightly in response. As the bull was drawn from the arena, the Lady and her consort stood up, signaling the end of the performance. I distinctly heard some of the audience grumbling that the performance was too short. Usually, we danced with the bull until we were stumbling with fatigue, a situation destined for injury. Today, the only one hurt was Arphaia, and she’d only bruised her ankle. Some flowers were thrown into the ring, and Elemon and Tryphon were called to the stands for tokens – mostly jewelry of varying value. I’d won a copper ring once from a generous fan. I doubted Arphaia would ever win much more than that.

We queued up and walked quickly out of the ring and across the ground to the tunnel. It felt even colder inside the caves, especially since we were all sweaty and panting, and I began to shiver. I hurried across the floor to my tiny bundle of belongings and quickly pulled on my old jacket.

Then I joined Geos and Tinos by the body.



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