Heresy by S.J. Parris

As a teenager Giordano Bruno has to leave his Italian convent because he reads forbidden books and believes that the earth revolves around the sun. He eventually ends up at the English court of the protestant queen Elizabeth I. One day he is sent by spymaster Francis Walsingham to Oxford University in search for hidden Catholics who might be plotting an attack on the queen. Bruno himself is secretly looking for a certain forbidden book that might be hidden in the Oxford library. But then the university is rocked by some horrific murders. And Bruno finds himself charged with the murder investigation.

Heresy is the first book in a historical mystery series around the character of Giordano Bruno. We meet Bruno when he has to leave his monastery because he was reading Erasmus on the toilet. The Inquisition is looking for him and after years of wandering around he ends up in England. There he meets his old friend Philip Sidney, a cousin of Robert Dudley and friend of Francis Walsingham. Although still a Catholic, Bruno receives much praise as a philosopher and is thus sent to Oxford to debate the universe.

Secretly, Sidney and Bruno are also looking for hidden Catholics and Bruno himself hopes to discover a particular book in the library. On his first evening, he meets Rector Underhill and his lovely daughter Sophia, but when one of the doctors is mauled by a wild dog during the night, the university turns out to be hiding a lot of secrets.

In many ways, this book is reminiscent of the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom. Like Shardlake, Bruno is a man between two religions and he ends up in a closed community to solve a series of murders, just like Matthew in the first Shardlake book ‘Dissolution’. But the comparison stops there, because Parris has her own style. Maybe all a bit less sublime than Sansom, but she knows how to build a good story. I like that the book takes its time to set to story and when you finally end up in the middle of the action, the book is finished in no time.

Heresy contains many different characters who are all neither good nor bad. You are constantly put on the wrong track and have no idea who is and who isn’t a secret Catholic. Only the story of Sophia is too cliché for my taste. Certainly not a perfect book, but a good start to this series set in the later Tudor era under Elizabeth I.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read this series yet?

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