Heresy, by S.J. Parris
There’s one sure way to scan the health of a literary genre: to note how easily it embraces other genres. And this is what we’re now seeing in the realm of historical fiction, which takes on romance, mystery, and even suspense. In S.J. Parris’ capably written novel we find elements of both mystery and suspense wrapped in an Elizabethan setting. Does this approach hold to its historical underpinnings, i.e. does it shed light on its historical era? Yes. Is it historically believable? Very nearly so.
Here, Italian monk Giordano Bruno has escaped the Inquisition by fleeing papal territories and eventually arriving in England, where he’s recruited into a role of spying on Oxford college denizens, a way of unearthing papists in Protestant England. Bruno arrives at Lincoln College ostensibly to take part in a debate on Copernicus, but he’s quickly confronted with an apparent murder, then another, and yet another. Why Bruno feels the need to investigate these connected killings is unclear, but investigate he does, and this begins to roll back a curtain of secrecy on secret Catholic meetings in Oxford.
The author pulls every twist and turn possible out of her hat to build suspense and to deepen the intrigue here, but to what end? Clearly, to the end of depicting history in a deeply ingrained manner. She has skillfully lain out the depths of the Catholic/Protestant conflict at the time, the terror it induced in the citizens of England.
Yes, to cast the monk Bruno in the role of medieval private eye is a bit clumsy, and some of the furtive hijinks seem a tad overdone. But, forgiving these, the author has done a bang-up job of giving readers a rare peek into the Elizabethan world.
My rating 16 of 20 stars
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