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Inquisition Paperback – 5 May 2011
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A masterful thriller for fans of CJ Sansom and Rory Clements.
About the Author
Alfredo Colitto is the author of six novels. He lives in Bologna.
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This is glorious stuff. I like CJ Sansom and have been looking for another historical fiction writer to read in between Shardlakes, and although I haven't much liked SJ Parris or James Forrester, Inquisition absolutely did it for me. It's smart but fun, full of interesting details about the Inquisition and the science of anatomy, and it's a cracking murder mystery to boot. I read online that the author has written two more books with these characters, and I want to read both.
But even beyond that, the story itself was absolutely brilliant. What a great concept - the mysterious death of a man who appears to have been a Templar, at the time when being a Knight Templar was in itself a dangerous occupation. The novel is set in Bologna, already a city in a region torn by long-standing Ghibelline and Guelph allegiances. More than that, the Church under Pope Clement V and King Philip IV of France are setting up actions against the Templars, and attempting to make those stick across the whole of Europe. The Inquisition in Bologna is keen to do their duty by the Church, particularly under the auspices of the really nasty Uberto. So when Mondino, an anatomist who really just wants to be left alone to work on his medical theories (also a touchy point with the Church at this time), finds himself caught up in conspiracy theories and unsolved mysteries which also seem to involve occult powers, it really becomes a race against so many factors to work out what's going on and why.
The characters are really well-developed in this book - they all stand out from the page, and are well characterised. The story races along - I found myself turning the last 50 pages at the rate of knots, absolutely frantic to find out what was going to happen next. The setting is very evocatively drawn for the reader - medieval Bologna, the Church, the life led by the people in these places at these times - it all rang true, and worked really well - there was nothing that jarred my historical senses at all. Clearly the author really knows his stuff. I haven't found any others of his books in English - hopefully these will appear on the market soon - I'd love to read some more of his works. Highly recommended for any reader who loves medieval mysteries.
The premise is relatively straightforward - three Knights Templar scattered throughout Europe, in Naples, Cyprus and Toledo, have been sent a letter that piques their interest, the promise of the secret of alchemical transformation waiting for them in Bologna accompanied by a finger that has been turned into iron, but the letter hints at another dark practices. When a victim subsequently turns up in Bologna, his body mutilated, his heart transformed into a solid block of iron, Mondino de Liuzzi, a physician and lecturer at the Bologna School of Medicine becomes involved helping out a young Knight Templar who is in danger of being accused of the crime, a clearly satanic act that is likely to be judged very harshly by the church and its chief Inquisitor in the city, Uberto da Rimini.
The Inquisitor has other reasons for wanting the young Knight Templar convicted of the murder, and it's very much to do with the order falling into disrepute, with its heretical views that threaten the authority of the church during a period when its power is being challenged. Not only is the city divided between Ghibelline factions who support the Emperor's rule and Guelph followers who support the authority of the Pope, but scientific discovery and investigation is also making progress, with many on a quest for knowledge that considers the heathen belief in Alchemy.
Inquisition then is a relatively straightforward murder-mystery with lots of historical interest and period colour and moments of 'grand guignol', but like the best historical crime novels of this type, it manages to consider its subject relevant to the thinking and beliefs of the times. The exploration of mysteries of the world and understanding of the workings of the human body and the mind undertaken by the physician Mondino relates perfectly to this commencement of the Renaissance period where the quest for knowledge is undertaken in the belief that it is for the betterment of mankind - a view that conflicts with the views of the church and how that betterment is achieved, even to the extent of killing heathens and heretics - and this is brought out brilliantly in the novel, without intruding and without over-complicating, but rather adding a layer of richness and depth to the thrilling murder-mystery intrigue.
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Still a good 'holiday read' as the Middle Ages atmosphere is well portrayed.