Sacrilege by S.J Parris

Sacrilege is the third in a series of historical mysteries set in Tudor England and featuring Giordano Bruno, a former monk who left his monastery in Italy to escape the Inquisition. Bruno is now in London working as a spy for Queen Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State and ‘spymaster’, Sir Francis Walsingham. At the beginning of Sacrilege, he is reunited with Sophia, a girl he met in a previous instalment of the series. Sophia has run away from her home in Canterbury after being accused of murdering her husband, Sir Edward Kingsley, and she wants Bruno to help clear her name.

Bruno agrees to travel to Canterbury with Sophia where he hopes to uncover the truth about Kingsley’s death and discover the real murderer, but he also has another reason for visiting the city: Walsingham has asked him to investigate rumours of a Catholic plot against the Queen. But soon after his arrival there’s another death and Bruno finds himself caught up in a conspiracy involving the remains of St Thomas Becket, the former Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in the cathedral centuries earlier.

If you’re new to this series it would probably be better to start at the beginning with Heresy, and read the books in order. I haven’t read the previous two novels and although I was able to follow the plot of this one without too many problems, I did feel I was missing out on some important background information. The novel is narrated in the first person by Giordano Bruno, but I felt I never really got to know him, which could be partly due to the fact that I started in the middle of the series. I thought he was likeable enough, but not really the charismatic narrator the blurb had promised.

I didn’t know anything about Bruno before reading this book, but he was a real person, an Italian philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. It was interesting to read about him after finishing the novel and discover how much of his back story given in the book was based on the known facts about his life. We do meet some of the better known historical figures of the Elizabethan period too (Francis Walsingham and Sir Philip Sidney, for example) but although they do have a role to play, during most of the story they are kept in the background while the focus is on Bruno and his investigations.

The actual mystery storyline was interesting and complex. Although things did move forward at quite a fast pace, there were also a lot of long descriptive passages and I found I had to really concentrate on these because they sometimes contained clues and information that were vital to the plot. The novel appears to have been well researched and I thought the atmosphere of 16th century Canterbury, the city and the cathedral, was evoked quite well, but it all felt just a bit too modern to be completely convincing. I did enjoy Sacrilege but I don’t think I liked it enough to want to read more books in this series.

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9 thoughts on “Sacrilege by S.J Parris”

  1. Oh, I didn’t know until this review that the protagonist was a real person. It’s interesting now how many authors are using actual historical figures to be the detectives in novels. Jane Austen and Beau Brummell feature in a few as well.

    1. Yes, I’ve noticed that trend too – though I have to admit I had no idea Giordano Bruno was a real person until after I’d finished the book!

  2. This is very interesting. I did not know that the person was a real one either. Makes it even more interesting. Adding this to my TBR.

    1. His life is fascinating to read about. I can’t believe I had never heard of him before, as I do read a lot of books set in that period!

  3. You saying about it seeming modern – my first thought was that mysteries are quite modern and you don’t hear of many stories of people solving crimes in such a way back then. I do like the idea though, and the context of more average people would be interesting.

    1. Historical fiction feeling ‘too modern’ is a bit of a pet hate of mine as I like to be completely immersed in the period I’m reading about. This book wasn’t too bad in that respect, really, but didn’t quite manage to sweep me away to the 16th century!

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