Saturday, July 10, 2010
Her Say For Heresy
Over time in the book world sub-genres begin, flourish and die away. The contemporary romance novel is a Mama genre but within that there are things like time travel romance novels. Books like the Gabaldon Outlander novels and The Time Traveler's Wife. Following the nothing succeeds like success motto publishers have put out countless books that have romantic time travel themes for the fans of these two super popular authors to enjoy. It happens all the time. Tom Clancy spawned a men's adventure techo thriller sub genre in the 80's that still thrives. I have no problem with this. I am all for people buying books and reading and whatever their tastes are is fine by me.
One of the newest and most popular of the baby genres comes out of the Thriller. It's the religious thriller. It comes in two main varieties. There is the contemporary search for the lost artifact theme and the historical persecution of religious truth with a dollop of lost artifacts and thumbscrews. I'm not a reader of the contemporary search novels but given my love of historical fiction the latter are right up my alley. I need to thank Dan Brown (and let's face it Umberto Eco is really the Papa of it all) for the proliferation of both varieties. How many times have I sat down with a salesman over the last few years and heard a book described as "Dan Brown meets John LeCarre", or been told to "think of this as a smart Dan Brown". I mean no offense to Dan Brown but these are the kinds of things you are told when an author has dominated sales. As a buyer you tend to disregard descriptions like those. You know from experience that the next Da Vinci Code will turn out to be a novel that only has sales figures in common with Da Vinci not plot.
The newest novel by S.J. Parris (a pseudonym for writer Stephanie Merritt) is a religious thriller of the historical variety called Heresy. It's 1576 and a monk named Giordano Bruno is exercising unauthorized freedoms by reading Erasmus in the privy. About to be caught and punished in many un-Godly ways, Bruni makes a run for it. So far so real. The real monk, philosopher, Galileo-ist scientist and poet Bruno made his way to England, after securing the friendship of a few important men, where he hoped to obtain a teaching position. Novelistic-ally Bruno does all that and gets caught up in a murder and Catholic (ever the Nazi's of the religious thriller) based treason threat against Queen Elizabeth I.
I wanted to read Heresy because of my interest in English history in general and this time period in particular. On those counts Heresy does not disappoint. The history is there in all it's satisfyingly chewy detail. Thriller-wise? Well there is nothing new in the premise but Parris has concocted a complex and intriguing enough plotline and likable enough characters to move the suspense along at a steady pace. My one complaint is that the dialog doesn't always stay true to the 16th century but that did not take away from my enjoyment of Heresy.
P.S. Why the pseudonym? I've heard writers say that they use the fake name so as not to confuse the fans of their 'other' books. Is that the case here? I'm not sure but Merritt does publish novels her real name. If that is her real name...