Archive for witchery

hue & cry [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on December 8, 2018 by xi'an

While visiting the Blackwell’s bookstore by the University of Edinburgh last June, I spotted this historical whodunit in the local interest section. Hue & Cry by Shirley McKay. It stayed on a to-read pile by my bed until a few weeks ago when I started reading it and got more and more engrossed in the story. While the style is not always at its best and the crime aspects are somewhat thin, I find the description of the Scottish society of the time (1570’s) fascinating (and hopefully accurate), especially the absolute dominion of the local Church (Kirk) on every aspect of life and the helplessness of women always under the threat of witchcraft accusations. Which could end up with the death penalty, as in thousands of cases. The book reminds me to some extent of the early Susanna Gregory’s books in that it also involves scholars, teaching well-off students with limited intellectual abilities, while bright but poorer students have to work for the college to make up for their lack of funds. As indicated above, the criminal part is less interesting as the main investigator unfolds the complicated plot without much of a hint. And convinces the juries rather too easily in my opinion. An overall fine novel, nonetheless!

snapshot from Salem

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on October 31, 2014 by xi'an


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…)