Book Review: Inquisition by Alfredo Colitto

Summary:

Bologna, 1311. Mondino de Liuzzi, a well-known physician is staying late at the university where he teaches.  This is nothing unusual for he often stays late in order to secretly study corpses in an effort to understand as much as he can about the human body.  When a surprise knock on the door disturbs him, he answers it to find one of his students holding the body of a murdered friend.

The victim: a Templar knight.  But what is striking is that there is something very unnatural about the dead body: his heart has been turned to iron.

Mondino’s curiosity is piqued.  How could a human heart be transformed into a solid block of iron?  Is it alchemy?  In order to find out, he is going to have to help a wanted man catch the murderer and in so doing, go up against a dangerous and ambitious Inquisitor…

Favourite Quote:

It was clear to his scientific mind that the transformation of Angelo da Piczano’s heart was not the result of the shadowy spell of a witch, but the much more concrete art of alchemy.

Review:

A few times I’ve had trouble reading books that have been translated into English; they can lack fluidity, creating jarring sentences that inhibit the pace of the story.  Inquisition was translated by Sophie Henderson, and in my opinion, she has done a fantastic job.  It was so well translated that, if it hadn’t been for the brief mention of it at the start of the book, I would never have guessed.

Fourteenth century Italy was vividly brought to life as I worked my way through the story.  Mondino de Liuzzi is an engaging character; he has an interesting job as a physician teaching at a university at a time when science and religion are at loggerheads.  He is a complex character that finds himself in a very difficult, and very dangerous, position.  And as he tries to unravel the mystery of the iron heart, he has much more to contend with.  The rest of the cast are just as well thought out and believable as Mondino, and like the scientist, have their own secrets and agendas, making this a fast-paced, gripping read.

Filled with action and drama, secrets and revenge, Inquisition is a suspenseful read which held my attention from the very first page.  A number of times I wondered how the characters were going to get out of the situations they found themselves in, and there were more than a handful of twists and turns to keep me guessing.  I also thought the ending was clever.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  I recommend it to those interested in any of the following: the history of fourteenth century Europe, the early days of modern science, the Knights Templar and the Inquisition.

Rating:

Book Review: Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith

morality-for-beautiful-girls-front-cover

Morality for Beautiful Girls is the third book in The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.

Summary:

Things are all-change for Mma Ramotswe.  First, she has decided to move her detective agency into the office of her fiance’s garage, but something’s not right with Mr J.L.B. Matekoni.  As she tries to work out what is wrong with him, as well as care for the two orphans they have decided to foster, she must also find a way to ensure that both of their businesses keep ticking over.

Then an important client who works for the government sends her on a case out of Gaboronne, leaving Mma Makutsi to not only run the detective agency, but step in as Acting Manager for Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors.  While Precious Ramotswe is investigating a possible case of poisoning, Grace Makutsi must help the organiser and chief judge of the Miss Glamorous Botswana beauty competition seek out the most deserving of the finalists.  If she can do that, she will earn the detective agency a generous fee.  The problem is, she only has three days in which to do it…

Favourite Quote:

What was too big, anyway? Who was to tell another person what size they should be?

It was a form of dictatorship, by the thin, and she was not having any of it.

Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this read, or rather, re-read, but it has been a few years since I have read from this series.  A point worth noting is that these books are always as good as I remember them and never fail to entertain.  They are nicely paced and easy to read, thanks to the writing style of the author.

It’s very easy to connect to the characters in these books, and as the characters themselves are concerned about the welfare of others, (indeed a theme of the book is that Africa can teach the world how to care for other people), when they are going through a rough patch, as a reader I feel concerned for them.  There is so much colour and vibrancy to the story, and the descriptions of Botswana, especially the descriptions of how the people feel connected to their land, is engaging and uplifting to read.

Grace Makutsi really comes into her own in this instalment, as she takes on the role of Acting Manager for Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors as well as trying to fulfil her job as assistant detective.

The next book in the series is The Kalahari Typing School for Men.  And I can’t wait to reread it, so I’ve added it to next month’s reading list.  I highly recommend this book series for those who enjoy a gentle ramble through a heartwarming cosy mystery alongside some wonderful characters.

Rating:

five-stars

Book Review: Sanctus by Simon Toyne

sanctus-front-coverSanctus is the first book in the Sancti Trilogy by Simon Toyne.

The book opens with a robed man climbing to the top of a Turkish mountain said to be the oldest inhabited place on earth.  It is called the citadel, and is the seat of ancient and secretive religion.  Then, with the whole world watching, he throws himself to his death.

This news story captures the attention of the world, something the citadel would have done anything to avoid.  For hidden within the man’s last desperate act is a message.  Should anyone break it, a long kept secret that the robed brotherhood have gone to great lengths to conceal except to the most highly initiated of their order, will come out, and with it, the unravelling of a millennia-old prophecy…

At first I was a little unsure of this book, but in a matter of pages I found myself completely absorbed into the story.  The story was well-written, the pace fast and the characters engaging.  All this combined and you have a story that manages to capture the imagination.

If you like conspiracy thrillers combined with a dose of ancient historical intrigue, you could do much worse than giving this a read.  I found the story gripping and struggled to put it down.  The author has a gift for storytelling.  He manages to add background detail to the narrative without bogging it down and slowing the pace – which is a must in these types of books.   And the ending was a complete surprise!

I’ve added the second book in the Sancti Trilogy, The Key, to my ‘to be bought’ list.  I can’t wait to read where the story leads from here…

Book Review: Rome: The Emperor’s Spy by M.C. Scott

rome the emperor spy front cover

The story begins in AD 63, in Coriallum in Gaul, during the reign of the emperor Nero.  It has come to the attention of the Emperor that a prophecy is in circulation predicting that Rome will burn in the year of the phoenix and bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.  Understandably Nero wants to prevent this from happening, and so he asks the spy, Sebastos Pantera to find out what he can, who is involved and ultimately to ensure that this prophecy doesn’t become reality.

But there are other things going on as well.  A young boy named Math, who dreams of driving a chariot on the greatest stage in Rome, has caught the emperor’s eye.  Nero’s reputation for cruelty is well-known, and so Pantera and the leader of the chariot team Math races for, Ajax, do all they can to protect him from the emperor.

This journey will take them all from northern Gaul to Alexandria and then on to Rome.  But can they really protect Math from the most powerful man in the Empire?  And what of the healer Hannah?  What is her story?  As they get closer to the truth, many secrets will be revealed…but will they be able to stop Rome burning?

I have a somewhat mixed review of this book.  Let’s start with the positives: This was an interesting take on the Great Fire of Rome and I loved the characters.  It was them that kept me reading, hooking me from the beginning of the story and not letting me go until I had reached the last pages.  Many of them were some of the best characters I have come across and have earned a place on my favourite characters list.

The negative: I found it very hard to get interested in the story line itself.  The whole idea of the prophecy rather surprisingly did not grab my attention.  Usually I love this sort of thing.  Instead, I was reading because I liked the characters.  I wanted to know how they fared as the story unfolded.

The book is packed with historical detail and so it doesn’t matter where in the Roman Empire the current scene is set, you can clearly visualise it and the characters.  The characters are well-rounded and interact convincingly with each other.  The story is well-paced and is moved forward by scenes full of action and energy.

Although this is the first book in this particular series, I learned that a few of the characters had featured in the author’s previous series based around the Celtic warrior queen, Boudicca.  Even though it has no bearing on the understanding of this book or my enjoyment of it, had I known beforehand, I probably would have read that series first.

I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Rome: The Coming of the King, to see what happens to my favourite characters and what trials they come up against next.

Book Review: 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Elspeth McGillicuddy has just completed her Christmas shopping in London and is on the train to St Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Jane Marple.  When another train draws parallel to her own, the blind in the opposite compartment flies up and she glimpses a man strangling a woman.  Although she cannot make out all the details, she is certain of what she saw, as is Miss Marple, when she recounts her tale.

Naturally, they report what she believed she witnessed to the appropriate authorities, but when no body materialises, Miss Marple realises that she is going to have to come up with a plan to not only prove her friend was right, but to find justice for the dead woman.  Using maps and Elspeth’s recollections, Miss Marple is able to pinpoint the location of the crime.  Nearby can be found Rutherford Hall.  Logic dictates that it is there, perhaps somewhere on the edge of the vast estate, that the murdered woman’s body lies dumped and hidden.

Miss Marple calls in a favour with a friend, the much in-demand Lucy Eyelesbarrow, who gets herself employed as a sort of housekeeper by the Crackenthorpe family who live in Rutherford Hall so that she can investigate undercover.  However, things are not that easy.  The Crackenthorpes are a dysfunctional family, who lie, cheat and keep secrets.  But is there a murderer in Rutherford?  Who is the dead woman?  And, is Lucy in any danger?

This is one of my favourite Miss Marple stories (my favourite is Murder at the Vicarage).  Lucy is a very interesting character, especially, I believe, to later generations who lack first-hand experience with domestic service.

The opening chapter unveiling the crime is one of the best starts to a book.  It is remarkable and unforgettable and although we, like Elspeth McGillicuddy are witness to a murder, there is nothing anyone can do.  We are all helpless as the woman is being strangled on the other train.

The Crackenthorpe family are interesting suspects, especially as they all seem to have a secret they wish to keep hidden.  And of course, old Crackenthorpe, the miserly father of the brood, is entertaining in as much as he thinks all of his children are trying to kill him but he plans to outlive the lot of them.

A fabulous cosy mystery and a quick read whodunnit.  What’s not to like?

Short Story Review: A Light on the Road to Woodstock by Ellis Peters

a rare benedictine front coverA Light on the Road to Woodstock is the first story in the prequel short story collection, A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters.

It is late autumn, 1120.  King Henry has successfully reunited England with Normandy once more and is preparing to return back across the channel.  Cadfael, a man-at-arms in the service of Roger Mauduit, along with a few other men, is asked to remain in their lord’s service for a few more days when they reach England.  Cadfael, with no other plans as to what to do with the rest of his life, readily agrees.

Cadfael’s role is to help escort Roger Mauduit to Woodstock, where the King will soon be holding court.  Mauduit has a case going before him, a dispute over a manor with the Benedictine monks of Shrewsbury.

But when the Prior of the abbey mysteriously goes missing on the road to Woodstock and Roger himself has an attempt made on his life, things suddenly turn very complicated.  Can Cadfael work out what is going on, without any further harm coming to those involved?

A Light on the Road to Woodstock is, chronologically, the earliest to feature Cadfael (not yet Brother Cadfael).  Having read all the full-length novels before I had managed to get my hands on A Rare Benedictine, it was enlightening to see how Cadfael become the sleuthing monk I feel I know so well.  This is the only story that shows Cadfael in his pre-monastic life, but it is clear that his sympathies and sentiments are already predisposed to towards his new calling, no doubt due to all he has done and all he has seen.  Also, his clear understanding of right and wrong, fairness and justice are also well-formed.  Even in his younger self, it is easy to relate to the man he will later become.

This is a great read and I can’t recommend it highly enough to those who are fans of Cadfael and would like to learn about how he came to be Brother Cadfael.

I have already read and reviewed the second story in the collection, The Price of Light, which you can read by clicking here.

Book Review: Excavation by James Rollins

excavation by james rollins front coverWhen archaeologist Professor Henry Conklin leads a team of students on a dig in the heart of the South American jungle, he believes he has found the evidence he needs to substantiate a theory he has spent many years working on.  But what they have uncovered is far beyond anything they could have expected.

However, what they have stumbled across by chance, others have been searching for for centuries and they will stop at nothing until they get it.  Archaeology has never been more amazing…or dangerous.

As the story takes us on an exploration of a subterranean Incan ruin, we quickly discover that all is not as it seems, both above and below ground.  Whatever they have discovered down there in the dark, there are those who have and will kill to possess it.  What can be so valuable?  More importantly, what lurks in the shadows?

If you like your thrillers and mysteries packed with action and with a hint of the extraordinary, this book might be for you.

I found that the first few chapters of the book were a little slow to get going as the foundations were laid for the rest of the story.  However, the pace quickly picked up after that, and barely relented as twists and turns (many of which were unexpected) were revealed one after the other.

The characters were diverse and engaging, especially the students.  The descriptions of the places and people encountered were detailed and vivid, and the storyline certainly captured the imagination.

This is the second time I have read this book (the first was a while ago and I had forgotten the plot), and I would read it again.  A recommended read.