AN ORDER FOR DEATH by Susanna Gregory
Little, Brown - June 2001
ISBN 0316856797 - Hardback
Historical Mystery
Cambridge, England
Date: 1354

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde,
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Cambridge in March 1354 sees our lively dons and students at each others throats once again - this time over a theological philosophy. One camp says that Nominalism is right and the other says that Realism is - the only thing that they do agree on is that anybody who doesn't think they way do is a heretic. The book opens when a fatality has occurred, seemingly over rival factions or friars fighting each other. Then Michael the Senior Proctor's assistant Walcote is found hanged. It is up to Bartholomew and his gluttonous sidekick Michale to get to the bottom of things before too many more deaths occur.

As usual the latest Gregory whodunit boasts a lively plot that almost manages to last the awesome number of pages (awesome for this type of book) but not quite. Comical squabbles over philosophical questions, naughty nuns at St Ragelund's convent and Michael under suspicion keeps the pit boiling merrily and for once the body count though high is not as excessive as in some earlier novels; there are still a few people alive at the end! I particularly applauded the way in which the reader was kept guessing about what Nominalism and Realism actually are until page 43 as apparently a lot of the people who are so vociferously defending one and condemning the other don't actually know either, but are merely cheering on their own "team" and using it as an excuse for a bit of fighting.

As usual the gluttonous and scheming Brother Michael provides a much-needed foil to his long-suffering and rather dull Bartholomew whose sole task is to solve the crime and be "normal" in the midst of wildly colourful characters. The band of students isn't in it this time which makes a change and though the whole things is over the top it somehow manages to keep just on the believable side of bizarre…well, almost. It wouldn't be a Gregory whodunit if it wasn't extravagant and humorous, would it?

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