A somewhat creaky debut true-life historical: part romance, part legal thriller, and a tour of some of the darkest corners of early Christianity.
Pierre Clergue is a confused priest of the 14th century who loves God, but women as much or more. He abuses his position in the town of Mantaillou to engage in a number of clandestine affairs, none quite matching up to his first unrequited love for a woman named Marquise, who has a girl child by Pierre’s brother. This girl goes on to have a relationship with Pierre for virtually her entire life, eventually mothering another girl, whom Pierre begins to lust after when she is only seven. This girl, nicknamed Echo, is an echo in more ways than one: she looks like Marquise. The bad news is that everyone is related. Meanwhile, some pre–Spanish Inquisition inquisitions have begun—all approved by a series of actual popes—and a Dominican friar named Bernard is certain that Pierre is up to no good and becomes obsessed with seeing him burn so as to save him. Pierre once sells out the entire town to save his own self, yet miraculously no one implicates him as a heretic. Still, trouble brews again when Echo becomes pregnant by Pierre: Will the lovers’ true love survive both pregnancy and Inquisition, or will Bernard’s sadistic Christianity win out? The early descriptions of romance are strained—talk of male “members” never stops being clumsily euphemistic—and although things begin moving when people start getting burned at the stake, a continued switching back and forth in time to cover multiple points of view makes for exhaustively repeated information. A tendency to linger over characters’ lives also smacks more of scholarly biography than of character development.
Trying to be fiction using the lever of history, The Good Men ends up as history clouded by invention. These characters really lived, yet they don’t come to life here.