Apr 23rd, 2010 by Thomas Stofer
Author: S.J. Parris
Hardback: 460 pages
Publication Date: 04/03/2010
Rounding off the trio of Tudor era novels is S.J. Parris’s Heresy. Unlike Wolf Hall and Dissolution [both set during the reign of Henry VIII], Heresy takes place in 1583 during Elizabeth I’s reign. The plot revolves around Dominican friar/philosopher/Renaissance man Giordano Bruno [a real historical figure], on the run from the Inquisition and finding a safe haven in England. At the behest of Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, Bruno travels to Oxford University to seek out Catholic dissenters. But a series of brutal murders – mirroring deaths from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs – mean that Bruno must turn Elizabethan detective in order to capture the killer.
Obvious influences on Heresy are C.J. Sansom [the name at the very least is an influence!] and Eco’s The Name of the Rose [whose hero William of Baskerville is, like Bruno, a mixture of philosopher and detective]. However, whilst Heresy has been in some way informed by Parris’s reading it is also very much unique thanks in no small part to the charismatic and engaging Bruno. I have to admit that that this is one of the first pieces of first-person narrative that I have really enjoyed [I usually have real difficulty reading them]. For me first-person narratives tend to be quite overbearing and claustrophobic and I found that Parris’s characterization and writing of Bruno makes him both a likeable voice but also one that does not overly intrude on the reader as he is telling the story.
Thankfully Parris chose to avoid the period language that can blight historical novels [Heresy is mercifully free of the thees and thous that would have made it a trial – excuse the heretical pun – to read], and the prose vividly describes the time whilst never allowing the pace to drop and with a cast of characters including Sir Philip Sidney and a proto-feminist love interest for Bruno, this book kept me gripped until the final page. Roll on the next Giordano novel!