Sacrilege by S.J. Parris
I received an advance reading copy of S.J. Parris’ new novel, Sacrilege, from the publisher, and figured since they were nice enough to send it to me, I’d tell you all how much I enjoyed the book: quite a bit.
Sacrilege is the third book in a mystery series set in 16th C England. I love it for the setting alone. Parris seems to have researched the context for his novel well– at least well enough that nothing stands out as glaringly anachronistic, at any rate, though I am bad about noticing those kinds of things. I should also note that, given that this is the third book in this series, it would have been easy for me to get lost in references to prior escapades. That was not the case. Some mystery series get so bogged down catching up new readers that they neglect to move the series– or even the plot of that novel– along very much, but Parris handled it well. I didn’t feel overwhelmed with old or irrelevant information, and I didn’t feel like I didn’t understand the backstory either. Parris very capably weaved the previous plotlines into the current narrative. It seemed very natural.
The plot of this novel involves Giordano Bruno (who is based on that Giordano Bruno. This is still a work of fiction, though, and doesn’t claim to tell any biographical truth about Bruno), erstwhile monk-turned-tutor-turned-diplomat/spy, a supposed cult of Thomas a Becket, and MURDER. *cue scary music* It also touches on the tension of living in a country where your public beliefs do not necessarily correspond to your private identity. This theme of uncovering, or discovery, runs throughout the novel in fascinating ways that might reward further thought and rereading. I don’t want to say much here about it because I don’t want to spoil the story for any of you.
There’s also a nice bit of romance in here. It was a bit earthy for my tastes, and struck me as a bit obsessive at times. (Giordano spends a lot of time being conscious of exactly how Sophia fails to look like a man– oh, yeah, there’s some mild transvestitism in this book too. HOW COULD YOU NOT ENJOY IT?) You should take that description with a grain of salt, though, since I hate it when mysteries involve romance (though the converse is delightful); it just gets in the way.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this novel. Aforementioned lovey bits aside, I really enjoyed following Giordano’s thought processes and going on his adventures with him. The twist at the end was a delight. And I loved “visiting” England, especially Canterbury cathedral. With a thoroughly realized setting, delightful characters, and plenty of both humor and suspense, there’s a lot to like about this novel. Go buy it or pick it up from your local library today. It won’t disappoint.