This is the fourth book in S.J. Parris’ Giordano Bruno series.
Giordano Bruno was a real person who lived in late 16th century Europe. He was a disgraced monk who abandoned holy orders because of his ‘heretical’ ideas on philosophy and science. He is probably most famous for his theories on an infinite universe. Excommunicated by Rome he travelled Europe making his living (with varying levels of success) as a teacher and academic, finding favour at times with rich and powerful figures because of his great intelligence.
S.J. Parris takes these facts and then uses her imagination to turn Bruno into a sort of travelling sleuth who solves crimes on his travels and become embroiled in plots and conspiracies wherever he goes! It is a great idea.
So far we have seen him in Oxford, London and Coventry dealing with the spies, religious radicals, murderers and plotters who were indeed abound in Elizabethan England. This novel is in my opinion the most exciting yet and sees him over the channel in the Paris that oversaw the end of the Valois Dynasty.
It’s a great setting. Set about 15 years after the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s day, when tens of thousands of Protestants were slaughters across France, we find a city taut with religious and political tension. The last Valois King Henry III, although still relatively young, is childless and not in the best of health and his cousin and likely heir is a Protestant. Will the King, whom most believe to be a homosexual, produce an heir with his long suffering wife? Will a Protestant on the throne reopen the barely healed religious wounds? Or will the Catholics find a way to force a Catholic succession with or without a legitimate Valois heir?
Bruno is drawn into this conflict when an old friend of his is mysteriously murdered and the clues indicate that the man had been part of a conspiracy at the heart of the French court possibly involving a plot to assassinate the King!
The best thing about this novel is that it is really exciting, full of danger and peril. It is also fun to learn more about the rather debauched French court which is run by the formidable Queen Mother Catherine De Medici. As for criticisms I found moments a little too gory, some of the poor characters really suffer under torture, but this is probably just because I am a wuss and the scenes did reflect the bloody times and helped raise the peril levels for Bruno. I also, in common with the other Bruno novels, felt the mystery itself to be a little weak. Parris is excellent at creating compelling characters and settings but she is no Agatha Christie when it comes to creating an intriguing mystery. At the ‘big reveal’ moment in each of the Bruno stories I have read so far I have felt a sense of disappointment at the solution of the mystery, a sort of “Oh, was that all”. But overall a great read and they do say the journey can be more exciting than the destination!