S. J. Parris follows up her first two novels, HERESY and PROPHECY, with a bang. SACRILEGE is the third installment in the Giordano Bruno series and may be the finest yet. Set against 16th-century England and teeming with historical context at every turn, it’s a feast for fans of historical thrillers.
Giordano Bruno is attempting to live a sedentary life as a radical philosopher and concentrate on his meditation and writing. Unfortunately, it’s his own past experience as both an ex-monk and ex-spy that continues to find him placed in precarious situations where he must rely on his non-typical skill set to get him through.
"SACRILEGE breathes life into 16th-century Europe, and [Parris'] protagonist is one of the most engaging characters ever created for the historical fiction genre. I anxiously await the next historically-themed adventure for this enigmatic Italian ex-monk."
These are dark days in London, literally. The Black Plague is killing thousands, while the reign of the Tudors has all of England in a grip of constant uproar. While visiting London, Bruno faces much scrutiny while walking the streets and must continuously identify himself as an Italian citizen, and not a Spaniard from a country currently at odds with the Tudor dynasty.
With the recent success of the HBO series “The Tudors,” as well as the bestselling novels of Hilary Mantel, this period in world history and the unique setting is enormously popular. Parris does much to capitalize on that while spinning a murder mystery that harkens to other classic historical thrillers, like Umberto Eco’s THE NAME OF THE ROSE. Bruno, however, finds himself thrust into a mystery from the past involving Saint Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. It was Becket’s infamous feud with King Henry II that marked him for eventual assassination. Four of King Henry’s knights entered Canterbury Cathedral and slay Becket with their swords.
This merciless killing smacks directly into the path of Bruno when he runs into his former lover, Sophia Underhill. At first sight, Bruno mistakes her for a man due to the fact that her hair was cut so severely short. She confesses that she is on the run because her husband has been slain on the same site where Saint Thomas Becket was struck down centuries earlier. With Sophia being the primary suspect, Bruno agrees to help keep her hidden while beginning his own investigation into the murder.
What Bruno uncovers is the existence of an ancient cult still operating in the name of the slain Saint Thomas Becket. They are highly dangerous and operate under an agenda that puts them at odds with Queen Elizabeth I and forces them to carry on their nefarious deeds underground. As prepared as Bruno thinks he may be for this task, he soon realizes he is no match for the cabal that guards the secret crypt beneath Canterbury Cathedral, and his life is very much in danger.
S. J. Parris is the pen name for Stephanie Merritt, a contributing journalist for various British newspapers. SACRILEGE breathes life into 16th-century Europe, and her protagonist is one of the most engaging characters ever created for the historical fiction genre. I anxiously await the next historically-themed adventure for this enigmatic Italian ex-monk.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 27, 2012