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3.9 out of 5 stars
Death and the Devil
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
This is an excellent book which I came across quite by chance.

It is well-written, historically accurate and very well put together. As a keen historian, I find nothing more annoying than historical novels that ignore historical fact and reality. This is not one of those annoying books; instead, it is a very honest historical reconstruction of a troubled period in Cologne's history, and its part in the Christian history of the West - all tied up in a microcosm in the small murder mystery that means much more than just the death of one man.

Who are the mysterious strangers who meet and discuss death so casually? And their agent - is he the Devil? And what about the innocents who live in Cologne who get caught in something well beyond their understanding or their everyday lives. An amazing amount of detail and action takes place in Cologne in this wonderful novel over a few days; and the reader gets caught up wholeheartedly in the fast yet thorough pace of the story.

Well worth reading - definitely a winner.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 15 August 2011
I can't decide whether giving this book three stars is too generous or not. Is the clunky prose, unconvincing dialogue and sometimes odd tone the fault of the author, or a too-literal translation? You'd have to be able to read it in the original German to know for sure.
It's a murder/horror story set in Cologne in 1260 as the new cathedral is going up. A mysterious group of wealthy citizens is planning some sort of coup which involves hiring an assassin who murders the cathedral's architect. This murder is witnessed by Jacob, a sneak thief living on his wits on the fringes of society, who is pursued through the city while he tries to expose the plot and stop more murders taking place.
Sounds exciting? Well, despite the complicated set-up it's basically an adventure yarn that, with a bit of editing, might make a good film in the Indiana Jones tradition - there's a lot of close shaves, fights, and hair's-breadth escapes from death.
Some of the book's faults are definitely down to the author, who obviously had ambitions to make it more than a mere adventure story. Be prepared for some very boring lectures on the politics and history of medieval Cologne, and some heavy-handed religious/philosphical discussions which don't bring much to the plot at all. I wish he'd spent more time on developing the characters and relationships, which are all rather two-dimensional - the romance in particular seems a bit of an afterthought. Despite the fact that the assassin is referred to as the devil, he didn't frighten me much. Most of the plotting 'patricians' are interchangeable, and they spend a lot of time talking about their enemy, the archbishop, who doesn't appear at all.
It's a convincing setting, he's obviously done his research, and if you like a historical murder mystery that's more of an action adventure then you might enjoy this, especially if you skip the boring bits. But just because there's a medieval cathedral being built, don't expect this to be anything like The Pillars of the Earth, which is a different sort of book and in a different league altogether. The horror element doesn't really work, and it's not a surprising plot - it's pretty obvious whom the assassin is going to try and kill at the end, and how. And I never really got to grips with exactly what the patrician conspiracy was all about, perhaps because it was buried in so much obtuse information.
So, lose the pretensions and edit out all the dull bits, make the reason for the coup clearer, create a more frightening villain, make all the main characters much more vivid, and this might make a good film. Mind you, if the author had done all that, and if the publishers had chosen a better translator, this would have made a much better book!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 22 September 2009
I read this more than 10 years ago, when it was published in my hometown Cologne as part of the Cologne crime fiction series. Loved it. It's a murder mystery mixed with a little bit of history about the most famous Gothic cathedral in the world. If you liked the Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, this is for you.
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on 21 October 2013
This is not quite a bad book, but it's definitely not a good one. The basic plot is rooted in the civil politics of the city of Cologne in the thirteenth century. Although the famous cathedral (then under construction) and its architect get walk-on parts, they are not central to the tale. An itinerant petty thief witnesses one murder, and stumbles across a conspiracy to commit an even more significant one. So far so good; but whilst the conspirators themselves (a confusing and interchangeable bunch) are clearly bad guys, the target of their plot is an equally unsympathetic character, and the reader doesn't really care whether the plot succeeds or fails.

Interspersed with the tale of the thief, his unlikely allies and a cold-hearted assassin, there are several clunking historical lectures. Yes, the story needs to be set in context, but there are good ways and bad ways of doing this - and stopping the story for three or four pages to lecture the reader is not a good way. In fact this book cries out for an editor. Paring away the repetitions and the info-dumps would save a hundred pages and result in a tighter book.

The plotting stretches credulity to the limit, and some of the prose is rather clunking, too. It is not clear whether this is the fault of the author or the translator. Some anachronistic phrases creep in, too. Surely no-one in the thirteenth century said "We're up a creek without a paddle"? As for "Curiouser and curiouser" - this is ungrammatical English and should only be used by those ironically quoting Lewis Carroll; and certainly not in a book set in 1260.

A book to read and forget.
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on 23 December 2012
I swithered between giving this book three stars or four. If I could give it 3.5 then I would. Some parts are excellent, some just plain dull. Basically the chapters alternate between the story of a grand conspiracy hatched by aristocratic families in Cologne in the 13th century and the lives of ordinary folk who are gradually and unwittingly caught up in the plot. The object of the conspiracy is not difficult to work out and the conspirators are so uninteresting that I had great difficulty remembering which was which.

The "ordinary" characters on the other hand are superbly portrayed. I found myself really caring what happened to the petty thief Jacob, his friend Richmodis and her larger than life father and uncle. The scenes involving these characters throb with life and vitality. There is also the character of the arch-villain of the piece, Urqhuart, who appears so evil that he is deemed by some the devil incarnate.

I think that this book would make a superb, fast-action movie. There are some excellent fight scenes and some of the situations are genuinely scary. On the whole, I'll plump for four stars.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
It is 1260 and the new cathedral of Cologne is beginning to dominate the skyline of the city. Jacob the Fox, a petty thief, is the only witness to the murder of the cathedral's architect and has to run for his life. Finding shelter and support with Richmodis von Weiden, her dyer father and her uncle Jaspar, the dean of St Mary Magdalene's and a physician, they uncover a conspiracy involving one of the city's wealthiest and most respected families.

This was an unexpected find in a bookshop while on holiday last year, and as I was born near Cologne and spent my formative years there, I just had to get it. I wasn't familiar with the author's name before and, dare I say it, I would wager that this is his first foray into the historical murder mystery genre. As such, it doesn't work terribly well, as the identity of the assassin and the conspirators is known from the start, and even though the intended second assassination target isn't revealed until the last 100 pages, I had guessed it well before then. The interest for the reader lies in the well-constructed and -researched atmosphere of medieval Cologne, which also covers recent history including the Seventh Crusade, the then current political scene and the philosophical and religious schools of thought prevalent at that time. With Jacob on the run from the assassin, the characters still have time for lengthy philosophical discussions and history lessons, something that felt a bit incongruous to me but which I enjoyed nevertheless. The characters are for the most part well drawn, even though I could have done without the love story angle.

If you like intelligent historical murder mysteries with the emphasis on the history and not the mystery, then I suggest you give this one a go.
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on 12 December 2013
A well-written and well-translated mystery novel that doesn`t have the most involved plot but, frankly, doesn`t need it as the story is thoroughly engaging. The main characters are interesting, well developed and very likable ( and the villains thoroughly dislikable ) and the story itself moves along at a comfortable pace. The author manages to communicate much of the style of life in medieval Cologne - especially the extent of the oppression of the the under-privileged - and utilses it as major component of his story. I wouldn`t be at all surprised to learn that there are further books to follow and look forward to reading them. I would would give this a rating of 9/10 ( Amazon PLEASE change the rating system to ten stars ! ) but on a 5 star scale that would mean dropping to 4 stars or raising to 10 ..... I`ve decided not to downgrade this book so it gets a full 5.
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on 14 January 2013
I wish I had bought this book in German, and read it in its original language,as I felt that a little was lost in translation; however I am not criticizing the translation, which is excellent, it's always the same when any work is translated. The storyline was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed it; but it did lack the impetus of "Ken Follett's, Pillars of the Earth, or Ildefonso's Cathedral of the Sea". The characters were excellently portrayed and came to life, and they managed to draw one in to the story. This book is a great read and I would highly recommend it.
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on 31 December 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this period crime story and would recommend it to anyone, with the proviso that you will enjoy it more if you, like me, have a perverse interest in medieval history! There is a lot of detail about the socio-political-religious conditions in the 13th century Holy Roman Empire which might not be to everyone's taste.
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on 7 January 2013
I enjuoyed this book / author. The plot moves along rapidly, the characters are rounded and believable and I particularly liked the sections on historical background of 13th century Germany and philosophical thinking of the time. This was most interesting and gave depth to the actions of the characters.
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