Rated of 5
by Nona F. (Evanston, IL)
Heresy, by SJ Parris
Readers of historical mystery novels will welcome the publication of Heresy by SJ Parris, a fast-paced novel of multiple murders at an Oxford college during the middle of the reign of Elizabeth I. Our detective protagonist is the Renaissance savant Giordano Bruno—excommunicant former monk and tutor in the study of memory to the King of France—whose latest move to escape the Inquisition on the continent is flight to England, where he becomes a somewhat unwilling spy in Walsingham’s secret service.
Charged with rooting out Catholic dissidents at Oxford, Bruno finds himself an outsider looking in, a good position for a detective, but a dangerous one for a foreigner and a nominal Catholic during this period of English history. The novel is cleverly plotted (it kept me guessing the identity of the murderer until the denouement), easily mixes historical with fictional figures, and gives a good sense of the intellectual and political atmosphere of the period. The Catholic threat to England’s stability as portrayed in the novel resonates with our own contemporary concerns regarding homeland security. Readers will need to be on the alert (or be able to flip easily back and forth) early on, when a number of characters are introduced all at once at Oxford. The ending implies that there will be additional books in the series, and I look forward to the author developing his major characters more fully in the future.