Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Unholy Alliance

by Susanna Gregory
Warner Books, 1997.
408 pages

I'm not normally one to read mystery novels, nor one to browse in thrift stores, so you can imagine my surprise when I recently found myself buying  An Unholy Alliance from a neighborhood thrift store. To my delight, I found a really good book.

If you like mysteries and historical novels, I think you'll like this story. It's set in Cambridge, England, shortly after the town (and most of England) has been devastated by the Plague, or "the Death" as many characters in the book refer to it. The Plague, it seems, has brought out the worst in people, and several of the town's prostitutes are murdered. Then a thief is found dead after attempting to steal highly secret university documents, a university official goes missing, and when a grave is exhumed it contains the wrong person. As Shakespeare might have said, there's something rotten in the state of Cambridge.

A university lecturer, Matthew Bartholomew, is asked to investigate the goings on. You wouldn't expect an English physician trained in Paris by an Arab doctor to be a good sleuth, but he is. His slightly different view of medicine in particular and the world in general give him unique insights into human nature.

The language of the book is generally clean except for two or three archaic curses (is a curse still a curse if you don't understand what it means?). There also seems to be a current of skepticism by logical characters like Bartholomew towards the devout believers whose faith is closer to superstition than trust in God. There is a curious lack of intelligent, thinking, and yet devout Christians in the story. Though it doesn't hurt the storyline as such, it makes you wonder what the author's worldview is like.

This is the first book by Gregory that I've read, but I'll be on the look out for more. As every page was turned, the mystery and morass got deeper and deeper and I wondered how it could all be solved. Yet it did work out and the ending was satisfying. I'll be on the hunt for more novels by this author to see if they're as good as this one.

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