KEEPER AT THE SHRINE by Domini Highsmith


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 In the year 1180, a catastrophic storm ravages the town of Beverley in York, site of the great Minster Church. Just ahead of the gale, a hooded, cloaked figure on horseback brings an infant to the shrine within the church. There, the child is baptized Peter and placed in the care of crippled master scribe Father Simeon, whose affliction disappears even as the rider vanishes. In the wake of the town's destruction comes pillage, rape, and murder. Simeon struggles to protect his godson, finding Elvira, wife of a ditcher, whose own infant had died, and moving her to the safety of St. Anne's convent to be Peter's wet nurse. Hovering in the background, meanwhile, are rich and powerful Father Cyrus de Figham and Father Wulfric de Morthlund--masters of church politics, each turning the town's havoc to his own ends; neither of them above carnal sin or killing; and each fearful of a reluctant Simeon's near sainthood status among the populace. Eight years pass--another sighting of the hooded figure; another devastation for the town, and almost the end for Simeon, Elvira, and an uncannily resolute young Peter. A story teeming with villains and heroes, plots and subplots, churchly rites, minutely detailed catalogues of riches and penury, and repetitive scenes of looting, desecration, rape and bloody killing. It's all too much, too stiffly told. A literary credo of less is more might have made this one more pleasure than penance.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-13102-X
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995