Review: Heresy by S.J. Parris

Title: Heresy
Author: S.J. Parris
Started: 02/25/2010
Finished: 03/16/2010
Source: ARC from Publisher

From the back cover:

Oxford. 1583. The cloistered academic and spiritual home of the most revered scholars in the world. But somewhere within the private chambers of the university, a brutal killer lurks. . .

Giordano Bruno — monk, scientist, philosopher, and magician — is wanted by the Inquisition on charges of heresy for his belief in a heliocentric universe. After years on the run throughout Europe, Bruno is mysteriously recruited by Queen Elizabeth I and sent to Oxford on the pretext of a royal visitation. Officially, Bruno is to take part in a debate on Copernican theory; unofficially, he is to find out whatever he can about a Catholic plot to overthrow the queen.

But before Bruno’s investigations commence, his mission is dramatically thrown off course when Oxford fellows begin to turn up dead. As he discovers a pattern in the murders, he realizes that he isn’t the only one harboring secrets and that no one at Oxford is who he appears to be.

From the gothic manors of the English countryside to the seedy taverns and mysterious bookshops outside the university gates, Bruno’s search for clues takes him to places he never knew existed and toward revelations that could threaten the stability of England.

Based on the real-life adventures of Giordano Bruno, this clever and vastly entertaining whodunit is written with the unstoppable narrative propulsion and stylistic flair of the very best historical thrillers.

The book claims to be historical fiction, so when I read that the main character believed not only that the earth was not the center of the solar system but that the universe was not centered around the solar system I had my doubts. Some quick research proved me wrong. The author has done a great job placing this story within an accurate historical context and tells a very plausible story.

The story unfolds without giving any hints as to who was responsible for the gruesome murders that occur shortly after Bruno, the main character, arrives at Oxford. You will not know who is responsible until he confesses at the end of the book. What captivated me was not the mystery but the ‘historicity’. You find yourself imersed in the period, a period that is so alien to us today. Church and State are so intertwined that one cannot be a loyal citizen without also holding to the state religion. Simply attending the wrong church service or possessing the wrong books is not just heresy but treason.

We say goodbye to Bruno but I have a strong suspicion that he will return to tell another tale.

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