THE NOTARY by Catherine
Pan Macmillan Australia
ISBN 0330362534 - 2001
Historical Mystery - Avignon, France / 1318
Some sexual content and violence
Reviewed by Rachel A
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Last year the best novel I read was Catherine Jinks's masterly The Inquisitor and I wondered whether she could possibly repeat such a dazzling feat of historical writing. I needn't have worried as she has more than done so with her new book The Notary. Set in the same period and region as The Inquisitor events unfold through the eyes of young notary Raymond Maillot, an inhabitant of Avignon at the time when they had a Pope there and a bon viveur who has an unquenchable thirst for wine, women and song. When a man is murdered by having his penis cut off Raymond finds himself with a new job, being assistant to one Father Amiel who is a Dominican friar and ex-Inquisitor. What follows is Raymond's quest to find solace but he is instead plunged into a psychological maelstrom of obsession, lust and envy.
The Name of the Rose set the standard not only for the popular sub-genre of historical mystery but also for novels dealing with the Inquisition; a hard act to follow but Jinks seems to have more than done so dishing up a dizzy tale of death, demons and Dominicans which teeters between popular and literary fiction by being neither and both at the same time. She recreates a world where religion governed every action, thought and feeling and the Inquisition had the power of life and death over everybody. But this is not a grim tale as there is plenty of humor and the stuff that life is made of - life goes on, regardless of how hard it is to exist. These seem to be real people talking and as in The Inquisitor Jinks has Raymond narrating his own tale and talking to us as if we were his contemporaries. I said of her last book that my only criticism was that it wasn't easily accessible for readers unless they knew a fair amount about the times but this time I would say that no specialist knowledge is necessary - just sit back and enjoy a damn good story. If Jinks doesn't have her own time machine she must have the next best thing in order to craft this type of historical fiction. A classic that deserves to be more widely available.
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