Book review: Sacrilege by S.J. Parris

Three of five stars

Some historical novels read like lighting; others trip lightly down their historical paths; still others plod, heavy and weighted with their historical sense and period sensibilities. Sacrilege by S.J. Parris is a plodder.

Giordano Bruno, former monk and current secret agent on behalf of Queen Elizabeth in the London establishment of the French Embassy, is surprised by the reappearance of his former love Sophia. Dressed in rags and disguised as a boy, she is on the run and accused of murdering her husband. She begs Giordano for his assistance: please go to Canterbury, discover who really killed Edward Kingsley, and clear her name. Giordano, still half in love and feeling some guilt over their past, obliges. He sets off for Canterbury, but not without a secondary purpose as assigned by the Queen’s spymaster Francis Walsingham: while there, he should look into rumors of a Catholic plot to unseat the Queen.

Once in Canterbury, and under an assumed identity with the aid of his court connections, Giordano begins his investigation. However, Canterbury harbors more secrets than a possible assassination plot and the identity of Kingsley’s murderer — missing and murdered children, a cultish devotion to the murdered St. Thomas Becket — and and such a questioning presence unsettles someone powerful behind the scenes. When he finds himself arrested and accused of murder himself, Giordano finds he must prove his own innocence as well as Sophia’s.

Parris tells a good story, rich with historic fact and period detail. The pace is steady and the language straightforward. This novel is third in a series, however. It’s a personal quibble, I suppose: this story stood well enough on its own, but given that Sophia’s and Giordano’s relationship had been previously established and explored, I felt I would have been better served and enjoyed the story more had I read the previous novels.

Many thanks to LibraryThing’s Early Readers program for the opportunity to read this book.

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