logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: Susanna-Gregory
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-03-11 20:52
An Unholy Alliance
An Unholy Alliance - Susanna Gregory

A Matthew Bartholomew Chronicle, Cambridge, England, 1350

 

He inserted a chisel under the lid and tapped with a hammer. The lid eased up, and he got a good grip with his fingers and began to pull. The lid began to move with a great screech of wet wood, and came off so suddenly that he almost fell backwards. He handed it up to Michael, and all five of them peered into the open coffin.
Bartholomew moved back, gagging, as the stench of putrefaction filled the confined space of the grave. His feet skidded and he scrabbled at the sides to try to prevent himself from falling over. Jonstan gave a cry of horror, and Cuthbert began to mutter prayers in an uneven, breathless whisper. Michael leaned down and grabbed at Bartholomew's shoulder, breathing through his mouth so as not to inhale the smell.
'Matt!' he gasped. 'Come out of there!'
He began to tug frantically at Bartholomew's shirt. Bartholomew needed no second bidding, and scrambled out of the grave with an agility that surprised even him. He sank to his knees and peered down at the thing in the coffin.
'What is it?' breathed Cymric.
Bartholomew cleared his throat to see if he could still speak, making jonstan jump. 'It looks like a goat,' he said.
'A goat?' whispered Michael, in disbelief. 'What is a goat doing here?'
Bartholomew swallowed hard. Two curved horns and a long pointed face stared up at him, dirty and stained from its weeks underground, but a goat's head nevertheless, atop a human body.

 

An Unholy Alliance is long, and it is slow, but if total immersion in mid-fourteenth-century Cambridge appeals to you and you are in no hurry to return to the modern world, this is your book.

 

Dr Matthew Bartholomew, our hero, teaches medicine at Michaelhouse to students who, in the years immediately following the Black Death, are desperately needed in the community but are mostly either less than gifted, or less than committed, or (as in the case of the Franciscans among his students) less than convinced about his unorthodox methods; for Bartholomew is a scientific practitioner before his time and is forever clashing with bigots and in very real danger of being accused of heresy. A nice typical touch comes at the beginning of the book when he notices a film of scum on top of the holy water in the stoup:

 

Glancing quickly down the aisle to make sure Michael was not watching, he siphoned the old water off into a jug, gave the stoup a quick wipe round, and refilled it. Keeping his back to Michael, Bartholomew poured the old water away in the piscina next to the altar, careful not to spill any. There were increasing rumours that witchcraft was on the increase in England because of the shortage of clergy after the plague, and there was a danger of holy water being stolen for use in black magic rituals. […] But Bartholomew, as a practising physician, as well as Michaelhouse's teacher of medicine, was more concerned that scholars would touch the filthy water to their lips and become ill.

 

The Michael referred to here is Bartholomew's sidekick, the gourmet Benedictine monk with an eye not only for a tasty dish but for a beautiful woman – as when he and Bartholomew call on "Lady Matilde", a well-known local prostitute, in the course of their investigation:

 

Matilde answered the door and ushered them inside, smiling at their obvious discomfort. She brought them cups of cool white wine and saw that they were comfortably seated before sitting herself. […] 'How may I help you?' she said. She gave Michael a sidelong glance that oozed mischief. 'I assume you have not come for my professional attentions?'
Michael, his composure regained now that he was away from public view, winked at her, and grinned.
'We have come to give you some information,' said Bartholomew quickly

 

A lovely scene, and beautifully written – though you must read the whole thing.

In fact, the book opens with the death of a prostitute, her throat cut in a churchyard as she makes her way home in the darkness, and this turns out to be but one in a series of murders, not all of prostitutes and some by garotting rather than throat-slitting, though there is a link: the small red circle painted in blood on the victim's foot.

 

This circle is the sign of a mysterious "guild"of devil-worshippers who meet in a local church, abandoned and decommissioned since the Black Death, one of a host of such cults that sprang up in the wake of the plague, when many had lost their whole family and God seemed to have abandoned his people and there were almost no priests left to minister to them.

 

But what apart from the circle on the foot is the link between the various victims? And who is organising this guild? What is his aim in all this? (Or her aim. A rather intimidating woman called Janetta is always there hovering in the background surrounded by a band of thugs.) Is it really satanism, or is he – or she – simply cashing in on people's helplessness and gullibility?

 

Slow, as I say, but memorable, and well worth the time spent reading it.

Like Reblog Comment
review 2015-09-22 00:00
An Unholy Alliance
An Unholy Alliance - Susanna Gregory Too many people. Too much going on. There were enough plots for three books.
Like Reblog Comment
review 2015-07-04 00:00
A Plague on Both Your Houses
A Plague on Both Your Houses - Susanna Gregory After finishing this novel, I felt like I had really read two separate novels. It seemed like there was a novel about the plague and a novel about the murders at Michaelhouse. I understand the plague was a big deal in the world at the time of the events of this novel but the way the writer included it took a little bit away from the mystery. The novel was written well enough for me to want to continue on with this series.
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2015-07-01 21:05
June Roundup
The Eloquence of Blood - Judith Rock
Sabriel - Garth Nix
A Darker Shade of Magic - Victoria Schwab
Naked in Death - J.D. Robb
Blameless - Gail Carriger
At Bertram's Hotel - Agatha Christie
The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel - Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Murder by the Book - Susanna Gregory
April Lady - Georgette Heyer

Best read: The Eloquence of Blood, by Judith Rock.  Another murder mystery featuring Jesuits and ballet, set in the Paris of Louis XIV. 

 

Right under that: Sabriel, by Garth Nix, and A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab, both fantasy titles with unusual magic systems and good world-building.

 

Weirdest: The Awakening of Miss Prim, by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera.

 

Worst: April Lady, by Georgette Heyer, which I'm tempted to down-grade to 2.5 stars, for the gratuitous anti-semitism.  (Are any money-lenders in Regency London, per Ms. Heyer, not Jews?  Are any of them decent people?)

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2015-07-01 13:35
June Reading Roundup
The Tapestry: A Novel - Nancy Bilyeau
The Chalice - Nancy Bilyeau
A Plague on Both Your Houses - Susanna Gregory
Wars of the Roses Trinity - Conn (england) Iggulden
Tyrant of the Mind - Priscilla Royal
Loyaulte: Stories of King Richard III: Tales of the White Boar 2 - J.P. Reedman
Tales of the White Boar: Short Stories and Poems About Richard III - J.P. Reedman
The Christian History Devotional: 365 Readings & Prayers to Deepen & Inspire Your Faith - J. Stephen Lang
Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption - Beth Clark,Katie Davis
The Chronicles of Pauncefoot and Longshanks - David Stedman

It was a great month of reading for me with Nancy Bilyeau's books my clear favorites. 

 

I also finished up a couple of books that I've already featured in a few posts:

Wolf Hall on audio book and Linda Porter's The First Queen of England.

 

It's exciting to have finished more books than the 10 I'm able to feature! Before you know it, I'll be creating fancy images of my reading list like some of you creative folk out there!

 

What was your favorite read for June?

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?