Including touches such as secret messages written in orange juice, ciphers and hidden codes, Heresy is the introduction to the Giordano Bruno series of historical mysteries by SJ Parris. Set in 1583, this is the English Reformation of Queen Elizabeth I and her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, as they steer the country from catholicism to protestantism. Meanwhile, catholics continue to worship in secret.
Former Italian monk turned heretic and philosopher Bruno rides out of London on a horse borrowed from the French ambassador, to meet with a royal party bound for Oxford. Accompanied by his friend, courtier poet and secret spy, Sir Philip Sidney, Bruno has two secret missions. The first, along with Sidney, is to expose a catholic conspiracy in the university city. The second is to find a heretical text, stolen long ago but rumoured to be in England, which states that the earth revolves around the sun. This second mission is the one, I suspect, that will continue beyond this book and through the whole series.
When the murders begin, Bruno’s position as an outsider at Lincoln College is both an advantage and disadvantage. His lack of foreknowledge gives him a clear vision of factual events and the awkward questions to ask, but his ignorance of the incestuous and competitive city’s petty squabbles, hidden feuds and flirtations puts him in the path of danger. He stumbles from incident to incident, working out who to believe and who to trust. Regarded as a foreigner and therefore a suspect by everyone else, Bruno’s difficulties reflect the turmoil of the times. The murders are brutal but so are the legal punishments for crimes.
A dense plot with an infinity of tentacles of historical fact and religious conflict that, at times, I found it hard to keep up. In the style of truly satisfying detective stories, when the villain was unveiled I thought ‘of course’ and was annoyed with myself for not guessing correctly.
Much-compared to CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series – which are set in the times of Elizabeth’s father King Henry VIII and his master fixer Thomas Cromwell – I found this book slower-moving and different in focus, but nevertheless enjoyable.
I do love finding a good series. Moving on to book two, Prophecy.
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HERESY by SJ Parris @thestephmerritt #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5dX via @SandraDanby