Book review: Heresy by Sharan Newman

Heresy (Catherine LeVendeur, #8)Heresy by Sharan Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the eighth in the Catherine LeVendeur mystery series. Overall, the series is fabulous. It is fabulous not only because of the depth and accuracy of the historical research but also because the series depicts the lives and conditions of Jews during the Middle Ages. This interesting (and often heartbreaking) perspective is unusual, especially for a mystery series, and fascinating. The author doesn’t presume to apologize for the attitudes she describes (and, indeed, there is no apology needed–facts are facts), nor does she attempt to modernize the characters’ outlook.
This particular mystery is interesting because one of the main characters is Astrolabe, the son of Abelard and Heloise. As someone whose mind is not suited to deep philosophical or theological debate (which I discovered when reading Abelard’s writings for a college course many years ago), I was relieved to learn that neither was Astrolabe’s. 🙂
The mystery itself is not the strongest part of this particular book (historical mysteries often have this issue), but the discussion about the religious factions, Astrolabe (and Heloise’s) places in the world, and the ramifications of the Crusade are knowledgeably described and well-integrated into the story.
The main character, Catherine herself, is a delightfully imperfect person, and the secondary characters–all of whom you have gotten to know throughout the series–continue to grow and deepen.
I highly recommend this series and this book. The series is best read in order.

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Book review: The Difficult Saint by Sharan Newman

The Difficult Saint (Catherine LeVendeur, #6)The Difficult Saint by Sharan Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Catherine LeVendeur mystery series is one of my favorite historical mystery series. In addition to the impeccable research and the excellent quality of the writing, what makes this medieval mystery series stand out is that the author incorporates into the series the medieval treatment of Jews. She neither softens nor tries to justify the persecution of Jews during the Middle Ages, but she does try to make the reader see the persecution from the medieval mindset.
This book is an excellent addition to the series (which is best read in order). Unlike in previous books where the persecution is opaque and non-violent, the Church’s push towards a crusade has ignited anti-Semitism throughout Europe, and Catherine and her family are caught between the personal (Catherine’s sister is accused of murdering her newly married husband) and the political (the increasing violence against Jews). The author even throws in some Cathars to add to the religious complications.
As always, the characters are interesting and well-rounded. The mystery is interesting and the religious issues well explained.
I highly recommend this series!

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