THE INQUISITOR by
Reviewed by Rachel
When you think of the Inquisition images of Auto-da-Fes spring to mind, where heretics parade before being burned in front of implacable inquisitors and sorbet-eating programme-reading locals or dim smoky torture chambers where screams mingle amid the intonations of black-habited Dominicans. It is a ripe field for novelists and an easy one to do badly rather than well, slipping into clichés and stereotypes. The Name of the Rose is a seminal work in the genre of historical mystery and I would venture to say that this novel also deserves to join the hallowed ranks of such classics.
It is told by one Bernard Peyre of Prouille, an inquisitor in a small town in the south of France called Lazet; the year is 1318. He tells of how his superior Augustin Duese arrives and is a new broom determined to sweep clean and winkle out secrets, entrapping heretics and looking in even the dustiest records to find obscure facts about his quarries. He is not long for the world though and is soon murdered, his body scattered to the four winds and Bernard is anxious to find out whodunit. But the more he looks the more he uncovers and in the end discovers that he is as fallible as the next mortal in matters of the heart. Bernard is an inquisitor but he is not a monster, merely a man of his time. Jinks wafts us back to a world where anybody could be picked up by the Inquisition and never seen again merely on the word of an informer, or because they had befriended a Cathar. Everybody’s words and actions are meticulously picked apart and sifted for the merest sniff of heresy and nobody is safe. Yet there is plenty of humor here, as well as passion and action and the whole thing is as meticulously crafted as a jewelled reliquary without being in the least pretentious or literary.
This is the cutting edge of popular fiction – sharp and erudite yet plainly told and easily read. It entertains and chills and satisfies the places most other historical crime novels don’t even begin to reach. My only criticism is that it helps if readers have some knowledge of the time and place for few explanations are given about the Cathars, the order’s history or their beliefs. The narrator is not talking to the modern reader but addressing a man of his own time and as such certain facts are not given and taken as known. This is not a historical novel for anybody who has little knowledge of the middle ages but is better suited to somebody who enjoys reading about the period. Nevertheless, this is easily the best historical whodunit I have read for several years – and I read a lot of them.
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