Monday, May 14, 2012
London, summer of 1584: Radical philosopher, ex-monk, and spy Giordano Bruno suspects he is being followed by an old enemy. He is shocked to discover that his pursuer is in fact Sophia Underhill, a young woman with whom he was once in love. When Bruno learns that Sophia has been accused of murdering her husband, a prominent magistrate in Canterbury, he agrees to do anything he can to help clear her name.
In the city that was once England's greatest center of pilgrimage, Bruno begins to uncover unsuspected secrets that point to the dead man being part of a larger and more dangerous plot in the making. He must turn his detective's eye on history—on Saint Thomas Becket, the twelfth-century archbishop murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, and on the legend surrounding the disappearance of his body—in order to solve the crime.
As Bruno's feelings for Sophia grow more intense, so does his fear that another murder is about to take place—perhaps his own. But more than Bruno's life is at stake in this vividly rendered, impeccably researched, and addictively page-turning whodunit—the stability of the kingdom hangs in the balance as Bruno hunts down a brutal murderer in the shadows of England's most ancient cathedral. -- Doubleday
When I was pitched the novel SACRILEGE by S.J. Parris, the book definitely appealed to me; and I was so tempted to accept it. I am always on the look-out for novels for my Mystery Monday posts, and I love historical fiction thrillers set in this time period. The only thing standing in my way was that SACRILEGE is the third book in a series of novels starring Giordano Bruno, a former monk who now acts as a spy. I'm really not very fond of starting series part-way through, but I have been making exceptions lately. I knew I wouldn't have time to read all three books, so I decided to take the plunge and start with this one.
And I am so glad that I did. SACRILEGE was an excellent historical mystery, and I honestly can't believe that I hadn't discovered this series until the third book. Needless to say, I will be going back and reading the first two. That's not to say that SACRILEGE didn't work as a stand-alone book, though, because it did. The author gave enough background information to keep the reader informed about the characters' pasts. However, those very same references made me curious about the events in the prior books and most definitely made me add them to my wish-list.
But back to SACRILEGE... SACRILEGE takes place in England in 1584 and centers around the legend of the death of Saint Thomas Becket, the 12th century archbishop who was murdered in the Canterbury Cathedral, as well as the recent murder of a prominent magistrate. When the ex-monk (and current spy and philosopher) Bruno discovers that he is being followed by none other than his past love Sophia who is accused of murdering her prominent (and abusive) husband, he agrees to help her find the real culprit. They head to Canterbury to begin his investigation; and while there, Bruno becomes heavily involved in uncovering some secrets about the magistrate's death and a larger plot concerning the disappearance of Becket's body. Bruno has to balance his feelings for Sophia with his quest to solve the mysteries, and he also has to try to resolve these issues before another murder is committed.
There were so many outstanding things about SACRILEGE from the mystery, to the character development, to the historical aspects of the time period. In fact, I'm not entirely sure what I appreciated the most. As far as mysteries go, I thought it was a very good one. It was complex (but not in a bad way) and I had absolutely no idea where the story was going to go (which is a very good thing in my mind!) In addition, the ending was a pretty big surprise, although I began suspecting some parts of the surprise a few pages before it was revealed. I'm guessing that the author planned it that way rather than believing that I was especially intuitive.
Perhaps even better than the mystery were the characters. All of the characters were very interesting and well developed, but I absolutely adored Giordano Bruno. I loved his voice and the way he told this story. He was brilliant and insightful, but at the same time, he was very human. He fell hard for Sophia and allowed his emotions to get in the way of some of his actions. In addition, he was an ex-monk who had doubts about religion and faith in a time where he could have been put to death for his views. I was extremely impressed with his detective skills, and I also loved his sense of humor especially when it was aimed at himself.
And finally, fans of historical fiction will devour this novel. I thought Ms. Parris did an excellent job with all of the historical details, and it is obvious that she researched the heck out of this time period. So much of this novel delved into the political environment of this time, and she managed to explain the intricacies in such a way that I could understand the complexities. I love that I not only read a fantastic mystery with intriguing characters, but that I also learned a thing or two while reading this book.
Overall, I thought SACRILEGE was a wonderful reading experience, and I highly recommend it to fans of historical thrillers. This novel definitely ended with a cliffhanger; and I, for one, couldn't be happier that there will be more adventures for Bruno!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.
Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.