Archive for Michaelhouse college

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.