“ Paperback: 496 pages / Publisher: Sphere / Published: 29 Sep 2011 / Language: English „
It's a brave book that dares to contain a comparison to C J Sansom and an endorsement from Rory Clements on its covers, yet that's exactly what Inquisition from Italian author Alfredo Colitto does. Given that those two have proved themselves to be masters of the genre over the past few years (along with S J Parris), it's a bold claim to make and, ultimately, one that Inquisition fails to live up to.
Set in Bologna in 14th century Italy, a university physician is drawn into danger when he discovers a corpse whose heart has been turned into a block of iron. Worse still, he is thrown into an uneasy alliance with a member of the Knights Templar - an order which has been declared heretical by the all-powerful Catholic Church. Can Mondino get to the bottom of the mystery without incurring the wrath of the Inquisition?
By now, you're probably thinking that Inquisition is pretty standard stuff for the genre - and you'd be right. Inquisition contains nothing new and conforms to expectations for the historical murder-thriller. There's the decent main character who finds himself caught up in bigger events, a long hidden secret, the search for clues to reveal the secret and a bad guy who will stop at nothing to gain the secret knowledge.
This is Inquisition's chief problem: because it contains nothing new, it comes across as rather insipid and uninspiring. It's not necessarily a bad book- indeed, it's perfectly readable - it's just that you pretty much know how things are going to go right from the start.
That's not necessarily a problem - you could argue that same is true of Sansom, Parris and Clements; they all tread a well-worn path and give the reader what they want and expect. Inquisition, though, is not in the same league as those, so whilst the lack of originality might be Inquisition's chief problem, it's not the only one.
You also need to add in that Inquisition feels very slow at times. Books like this need to be fast-paced; a thriller which takes the reader on an exciting journey and doesn't give them time to stop and think about how daft it is. Inquisition's pace is more pedestrian. Outbreaks of adventure are interspersed with information on Bolognese history or medical practices in the 14th century. Whilst some of this is relevant to the plot, much of it is not. So whilst it's interesting, it doesn't need to be there and slows the plot down.
The book also loses something in translation. The author assumes that the reader will have at least a passing understanding of Bolognese or Italian history and uses terms like Ghibelline as if the reader will be familiar with them. Whilst they may be commonly understood in Colitto's native Italy, they are less recognisable in the UK, so readers may struggle to pick up on the full implications. Attempts to explain them are rare and left a little late. When you finally do get an explanation, it feels artificial. I don't know whether this is down to the original author or the translator, but they don't feel natural. Again, this contrasts sharply with Sansom's novels, where historical facts are seamlessly woven into the fictional narrative in a seamless fashion.
The plotting also suffers from an artificial feel. The success of the Sansom books is based on the fact that the central plots are plausible set against the political upheaval of Tudor England. With its emphasis on alchemy and turning hearts to metal, Inquisition also strays a little too far away from what is possible, which jars with the historical setting.
The lack of a convincing plot inevitably impacts on the characters who feel rather bland. Despite lots of information about his background and family life, main character Mondino always felt like a cipher, an empty vessel created because the plot needed him. It's a problem which affects many of the other characters in the book - even when they are based on real people. Inevitably, this impacts on the narrative. You never make any real emotional connection with the characters or care that much about their fate.
Despite being critical, I'm not saying that Inquisition is a bad book; it's merely an adequate one. However, in an increasingly crowded market authors need to do better if they are going to attract the book buying public and be compared positively with their peers.
Inquisition can be bought for around £5 new (paperback or Kindle). Like most books of this type, you're probably only going to read it once so I'd suggest waiting until you can track it down a cheap second hand copy.
© Copyright SWSt 2014