Set in 16th-century Spain, this colorful detective story combines sex, violence, the Inquisition, and ambition-fueled intrigue that stretches from bailiffs to noblemen in high places.
When an exceptionally vile priest is slain in his village church in 1584, the circumstances arouse fears that the area’s converted Moors, or Moriscos, are being incited to revolt against Christianity by a man calling himself the Redeemer. Leading the murder investigation is a criminal judge named Bernardo de Mendoza, a 34-year-old veteran of the anti-Moor battle of Lepanto and the Granada War. Along with his teenage scribe, Gabriel, whom he rescued in Granada, and a lusty, hard-fighting cousin named Luis de Ventura, Mendoza travels to the Pyrenees village of Belamar de la Sierra in the Cardona region of Aragon to dig into a case that grows more complicated by the day. A key figure is the beautiful widowed Countess of Cardona, who controls politically important territory but lacks a male heir. Yet she still fends off marriage proposals from the nasty son of the nastier Baron Vallcarca—especially unwelcome for a juicy reason that shan’t be revealed here. Unlike the Monty Python gag, everyone in Aragon expects the Spanish Inquisition, which frequently comes onstage to torture confessions out of invariably innocent perps. As more murders and motives emerge, the priest’s demise proves to be only a small piece in a religious, political, and sexual jigsaw. Carr (Fortress Europe, 2012, etc.), a journalist and historian, lets out the stays for his meandering fiction debut, getting a tad melodramatic here and there but without ripping any bodices. He has a strong character in Mendoza as well as good sidekicks in gawky Gabriel and the usefully reckless Ventura.
The author has written nonfiction books about terrorism and repression, and contemporary parallels may be found in this novel, but it stands well on its own as an entertaining historical mystery.