Sacrilege (Giordano Bruno #3), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

S.J. Parris continues with her Elizabethan mystery series, presenting a third stellar novel featuring Giordano Bruno. Dealing less with the politics and religious division of the time, this piece is no less captivating or emotionally trying for our protagonist. After a trying few months, Giordano Bruno enjoys some quieter times in London, still working for the French Ambassador and secretly connected to the English Crown through Sir Francis Walsingham. With the dawn of 1584 comes talk of a plague, which keeps people at a distance and leery of those they do not know. There is also talk that powerful forces on the European mainland may soon strike in yet another war whose undertones are understandably religious. When Bruno runs into a familiar face, Sophia Underhill, things are more worrisome than an encounter with a past love should likely be. Sophia is in disguise—a man, no less—and has made her way to find Bruno so that he might help her. While living as Kate Kingsley, Sophia has been charged with her husband’s death and is likely to face execution in Canterbury. Bruno, his emotions all over the place, agrees to help and makes his way to the religious centre of England, seeking to discover what is going on and how to help Sophia. When he arrives, Bruno begins poking around, laying the groundwork for what he hopes is a quick solution to a legal problem. However, things go wrong and he comes upon a body in an apothecary shop, only to be charged with murder himself by an over-zealous constable. Bruno dodges the law as best he can and learns more about the community, which still holds onto old stories and the ghost of (in)famous Bishop Thomas Beckett. Bruno soon learns that there is a group of men who revere Beckett and seek to make trouble for Queen Elizabeth, but the larger issue is a set of cultish acts that are taking place in secret. Might the murder of Sir Edward Kingsley be tied to others that have taken place? Could the discovery of Beckett’s tomb tell a convincing story? And what of the mysterious book that Bruno has been seeking for years? All this and more comes to light in this telling tale that pulls series fans into the centre of late 16th century England and the historical goings-on of the time. Recommended to those who love a mystery steeped in history, as well as the reader who—like me—have become enamoured with this series over the last while.

While I have found that the series took some time to get moving, dedication pays off for those who use a degree of patience. Parris continues with her clear and detailed style of writing that presents the reader with a learning experience on every page. Giordano Bruno returns as protagonist, able for the most part to focus his attention on the mystery, rather than defending a faith that he fled and having his excommunication serve as a millstone throughout the narrative. While still seen as a foreigner and suffering some xenophobia, Parris tackles this effectively and uses the sentiments of the times to explain how vilification came before understanding. The attentive reader will also see a softer and more emotional side to Bruno, something that has been missing—or at least only hinted at before now—and much needed to build depth in this series. Still level-headed and always looking for clues that will help explain the situation, Bruno relies on his intellect and wit, rather than pure luck and blind faith to help those in need. Bruno’s quasi-duplicitous nature as a spy is less apparent here, though there is some talk of politics throughout, as Europeans powers seek to solidify their control and eye England as a means to crush Protestant sentiment. Parris uses these historical events to set more important groundwork for the developing series, devising wonderful characters—both historically accurate and those of her own creation—who fill the narrative with their own points of view and keep the mystery going strong. The story proves to be well-paced and developed, tossing off the minute detail that I found bogged down the first two novels. Rich with history and some mention of long-held political clashes, Parris takes the reader out to Canterbury, which seems both bucolic on one hand and full of the rich history of Thomas Beckett’s murder on the other. With chapters of a decent length and a plot that evolves throughout, Parris is able to create a plausible story and injects needed educational moments without turning things into a piece that is burdensome. I am excited to keep reading and see where Bruno will go, as well as how some of the emotional revelations in this book develop into something intriguing as the series gains more momentum.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for another winner. While I was leery to begin, my patience has surely paid off greatly. Keep the stories coming!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: