Monday, May 10, 2010

historial thriller featuring an ex-monk who believes in aliens & tracks down murderers by sj parris

Heresy from SJ Parris is the first in what will be a series of historical thrillers set in the 1500s and staring Giodarno Bruno, former monk, magician, scientist and heretic.
SJ Parris is, in fact, the author Stephanie Merritt, a well-known British critic and journalist who has written for The Times, the Daily Telegraph and who was also the Deputy Literary Editor at The Observer. She's also published three books; two works of fiction and a memoir about depression.
With Heresy, the author has moved into new territory by creating an interesting new character with both depth and human foibles writ large. Although the 'murder mystery set in ancient times' concept isn't exactly new – in fact, the publishers suggest in a book blurb that readers who liked The Name of Rose or CJ Sansom's work should buy this book – Heresy is an interesting take on the idea.
Bruno is a mass of contradictions. Although he spent years in an Italian monastery, he has an inquiring mind and doesn't toe the line. Heresy opens with a humorous explanation as to why Bruno is no longer a monk.
But the real meat of the story comes years later as Bruno, now safe from the Inquisition in England, ends up working for Sir Francis Walsingham, spy-master for Queen Elizabeth I.
Sent to Oxford, the university is considered to be rife with rabid Catholics, Bruno's political investigations are interrupted by a series of murders, so he switches track. Helped by a beautiful young woman – he's no longer a monk, remember – and a series of letters implying that each death is linked to heresy of some sort, Bruno attempts to track and catch the murderer.
From the opening scenes of Bruno's youth, to the action-packed conclusion that includes hidden priests, secret loves, burly henchmen and scheming aristocrats, Heresy is a good read.
The pace is fast, the historical detail is not overwhelming – although the background information on religion in the period is a bit tedious – and the characters are well-developed. Merritt / Parris has a nice turn of phrase, although some of the cadence and terminology may be a little modern for purists, it makes for an easier read.
The 'Medieval thriller' genre is not new, there are the popular Hugh Corbett mysteries by Paul Doherty and Michael Jecks' Medieval West Country Mysteries series as well as Peter Tremayne's prolific Sister Fidelma series about a nun in 9th century Ireland.
But Merritt / Parris has given the genre a little more bite with her former monk who believes in extraterrestrial beings and astronomy, and who is neither 'holier than thou' nor a complete rake.
Heresy is a good start to what could be a substantial series of solid, fun, historical thrillers. Only time will tell if Giodarno Bruno will become as popular as some of the other characters in this genre.

Heresy by SJ Parris is published by HarperCollins and is available from good book stores and online.


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