By S J Parris
|Value for money||8/10|
|Did it do what it said on the box?||8/10|
Dodgy Dons Done to Death in Troubled Tudor Times
Initially I thought of this book as "’The Name of the Rose’ meets ‘Elizabeth’", as it combines religious themes into a murder mystery set in Elizabethan England, but on reflection that’s not quite correct. This is "’Elizabeth’ meets ‘Inspector Morse’".
Not only are the victims a series of Oxford University academics, who meet progressively stickier ends, but the central character is a lonely polymath with an ambivalent attitude to authority, and his own intellectual obsessions. That and the Oxford locations are both reminiscent of Dexter’s stories, but this is very much its own historic tale, focused on the turmoil caused by the multiple violent shifts in English religion between the reigns of Henry and Elizabeth.
This is a well-written and captivating story, which kept me turning the pages. The characters are all well-drawn, whether heroes, victims or villains. A few are well-established historical personages, like Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, and these are portrayed very much as we might expect. Similarly the practical aspects of Elizabethan life and the physical details of the Oxford and London locations are brought clearly and colourfully to life by Parris’ descriptions.
The decision to tell the story in the first person, from the standpoint of the central character, is a slightly odd one, in that it allows for no uncertainty in respect of his motives or progress. His own ambivalence on certain moral issues, and some self-doubt, are well portrayed, but overall I think I prefer a slightly more neutral viewpoint in stories of this nature.
Another minor complaint is that my pre-publication copy of the book had a few errors of typography and grammar, but I hope these will be eliminated in the fully proof-read published version.
Those niggles aside, this is an excellent read, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who fancies a good mediaeval murder mystery.