Archive for Matthew Bartholomew

recent reads

Posted in Books, Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2013 by xi'an

During my trips in the recent weeks, I managed to read a few books, although nothing spectacular:

Arnaldur Indriðason’s Outrage (Myrká in Icelandic) is a thriller in the Erlandur series, where inspector Erlundur does not appear at all but is replaced with inspector Elinborg who deals with the murder of a drug rapist. And her family problems. The book got a prize in France and its focus on women issues makes it more interesting than the polce story itself, which meanders quite a lot and relies on too many coincidences. But I do like the stuffing no-exit (huis clos) atmosphere. (The above image is the critique in French from Le Canard Enchaîné.) Given that Erlundur has disappeared, this book stands in between other Indriðason’s books, Hypothermia (Harðskafi) and Black Skies (Svörtuloft).

I had mentioned my uneasiness about Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God a few months ago, both because of a very uneven style, a plot borrowing so much to real events and locations, and a highly ambiguous central character. I nonetheless read the second tome, The Last Four Things, following a request from my son. My impression has definitely not improved, mostly again for a high rate of borrowing from existing facts and places (like Chartres used for the papal seat). The title itself is found in many books and comes from a painting by Bosch I missed in Madrid last time I visited El Prado. The characters are mostly the same ones as in The Left Hand of God and they remain shallow and unconvincing. The political plot(s) are of no interest whatsoever. The reunion between Cale and Arbell is botched, to say the least. (And still some people love it!)

Another thriller I quickly read is Susanna Gregory’s Mystery in the Minster, the 17th chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew… In line with the recent chronicles in the series, the book is not worth any level of recommendation. The plots get thinner and thinner, the dialogues and settings less and less realistic for their 14th Century environment, and the resolution is rushed with no even a pretence of disguise for the massive infodump in the Epilogue! It feels like I have already seen it all in previous books: the trip away from Cambridge to gather an uncertain inheritance, the flow of new characters taking an unreasonable interest in Michelhouse affairs, an endless sequence of deaths, poisons, “wanton” nuns, attractive women turning into insane murderesses, fights for life in an abandoned and crumbling church, &tc. Among the many implausible facts in the current volume, the vicar-chorals’ obsession with shoes, speaking of “intelligent, liberal people” as in a 21st Century society, or hiring an actor to play the role of a (long dead) priest for more than a month… I will for certain abstain from buying the incoming 18th chronicle, appropriately planned for April the 1st!

When ordering books from for my daughter, I added Ascension, a manga by Shin’ichi Sakamoto about climbing. I was however quite disappointed by the result, both for the silly plot and for the lack of realism in its climbing connection!

Cambridge blue

Posted in Books, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on March 18, 2012 by xi'an

No, this is not a signal for post-partum depression, even though I really enjoyed my time there!, but the title of a book I  got almost for free while in Cambridge Waterstone’s, at the desk as I was paying for The Alloy of Law (also on reduced price, thankfully!) and a Trollope I had not read… Cambridge Blue is a detective story written by Alison Bruce and entirely taking place within Cambridge, which makes for an additional attraction if you are familiar with the place. Overall, this is a pleasant thriller (if I may attach such opposite terms!) with a good if unlikely central character, as well as a whole range of plausible culprits. Maybe the strongest point remains that it takes place in Cambridge after all. (This is the first novel of Alison Bruce. I hope it does not end into a stale series as another Cambridgian series did, namely the initially superb Susana Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew that have gradually become so disappointing…)

A Vein of Deceit

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on January 7, 2012 by xi'an

An aptly chosen title: for the second time in a row, I am fairly disappointed with a Susanna Gregory‘s Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew… It may be that, was I to re-read the first chronicles, I would get similarly unhappy about the enormous suspension of disbelief required by the novels.

“`And this pair will insist on guffawing each time I posit a notion  — they say I am employing a posteriori reasoning to argue a baseless superstition.'” (A Vein of Deceit, page 74)

The current story actually reminds me very much of an earlier chronicle, A Wicked Deed, as the setting (a dispute about a succession in a remote village away from the University) is fairly similar. There are many many reasons why I find A Vein of Deceit highly implausible (warning, spoilers!): a plot involves an unlikely tryst between a Cambridge scholar and a back-country heiress, a Michaelhouse faculty turning into a greedy traitor, a pair of super-villains who freely terrorise the whole city of Cambridge by having won an earlier legal trial, a huge frequency of chance meetings, an equally large amount of related crimes, venture capitalism, acceptance of homosexuality (at a time homosexuality was punished by death) and of concubinage, a general freedom of women that seems incompatible with the time, geographic impossibilities like having no road to the nearby and bustling Haverhill (to the point the group from Cambridge gets lost on its way there), consecrated chapels used for raising poultry, &tc., &tc… The plot unravels in a messy way with new threads being continuously brought in. (warning, spoiler!) The (hidden) reappearance of Matthews’ love in the novel is equally contrived and implausible.

`He frightened me into telling you what I have discovered as soon as I could get you alone for a few hours. And then what did he do? He laughed himself to death!’” (A Vein of Deceit, page 211)

Overall, I did not get much pleasure from reading the novel and fear the inspiration of the author has dried out. There are two more novels in the series, The Killer of Pilgrims (2010), and Mystery in the Minster (to be published, yet another chronicle taking place away from Cambridge). It is more than likely that I will have a try at the first one, but I am pessimistic about the outcome.

The Devil’s Disciples

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on May 8, 2010 by xi'an

`Magic?’ echoed Bartholomew warily. `Do you really believe in this sort of things?’

I have finished my fourteenth chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew, The Devil’s Disciples, and this one seems to be the most disappointing of all! Maybe it is getting harder and harder for the author, Susanna Gregory, to find good plots and to sustain a realistic and exciting pace for her novels within the same environment of 14th Century Cambridge and with the same characters from the fictional college Michaelhouse. This novel mostly suffers from a poor plot, as most of the action is unbelievable and anachronistic, while the final resolution is anticlimactic and disappointing. I have found that the recent chronicles have become less credible from a historical viewpoint and some of the exchanges in The Devil’s Disciples are anachronistic. From a global perspective, the book deals (once again) with witchcraft and the fight between Church and the followers of Satanic rites. While I accept the core idea that the Black Death of 1347 has had a strong psychological impact on the beliefs of the survivors and that this could have driven people away from the Church into anti-Christian sects, the openness of their move is not plausible. At that time, witchery was both an heresy and a major crime (because people also believed in charms and curses), the Church inquisition had already been instituted by the Pope, and thus the idea of someone declaring his or her support of a sorcerer/witch or openly attending a sorcery meeting does not make sense to me. The relativity of beliefs expressed in the quote below does not belong to the 14th Century! (The same comment applies to the handling of a book of curses by half the characters in the novel.)

`It is a battle between two belief systems, each with its own merits and failings. The Sorcerer will not see himself as wicked but as one who offers a viable alternative to the Church.’

At the individual level, I find the main characters fairly shallow, Bartholomew spending most of the book running from one point of Cambridge to another one and not doing much else for being so exhausted by the Marathonian training! The changes in a well-established character like Father William are difficult to believe and the final uncovering of the two main culprits is both predictable and implausible to the extreme! Both Brother Michael and Matthew Bartholomew are missing the obvious clues and it takes the providential return of Clippesby to uncover the Sorcerer’s plot (whose point remains obscure to me).So both parts that constitute the appeal of a historical whodunnit are mostly lost in The Devil’s Disciples. I hope the next chronicle, A Vein of Deceit, succeeds better! (Even though early reviews are not promising…)