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Good historical murder-mystery
on 27 April 2011
The Inquisition is an intriguing proposition for fans of historical murder-mystery fiction, written by an Italian author, set during the early Renaissance with the university city of Bologna at the centre, where the whole nasty business of a gruesome killing is mixed up in the affairs of the Knights Templar, the Inquisition and the eternal quest for the secret of alchemy. While the murder-mystery aspect of Inquisition turns out to be fairly conventional however, the period, the setting and the characterisation make the novel much more interesting.
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.