Densely plotted and paced historical thriller set in Elizabethan Oxford combines spying and a serial killer with the quest for a world-order–threatening lost book.
Pseudonymous author Parris (aka British journalist Stephanie Merritt) weaves a shrewd commercial web around the real-life figure of Giordano Bruno, an exiled, excommunicated Italian monk whose passion for knowledge led to accusations of heresy. Escaping his Neapolitan monastery and the Father Inquisitor, Bruno heads north, makes his reputation as a philosopher at the French court, then visits London, where popish plots are feared and treasonable suspects brutally tortured and gruesomely executed by Queen Elizabeth’s minions. Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen’s secretary of state, asks Bruno to exploit a visit to Oxford and look for plotting Catholics. But Bruno’s real quest is to find the 15th book of Hermes Trismegistus, a high priest in ancient Egypt who “claimed to have entered and understood the Divine Mind”; the missing book will supposedly reveal the secrets he learned. Parris balances the cerebral elements of her story with more popular ones: a series of savage, themed murders; an opinionated, attractive, imperiled female; and the inclusion around Bruno of other real-life figures, notably Sir Philip Sidney. The murders stack up, the pace becomes helter-skelter and the action overloaded as Bruno, in pursuit of a corrupt Jesuit priest, confronts endless perils before justice is finally and bloodily served.
Spirited storytelling, an appealing sleuth and a cool, mutilated villain will lead readers to hope this is the launch of a series.