The Bishop’s Grimoire

Written by Michael Anson
Review by Marilyn Pemberton

1766, Lichfield. Richard Greene, a fifty-year-old apothecary, surgeon and proprietor of an extensive museum of ancient artefacts and curios, is one of a party visiting Eccleshall Castle, the former home of a bishop of Lichfield in the 1300s, who had stood trial for witchcraft.

During their visit, a gatehouse that is being renovated collapses, killing one of the workmen but also revealing an ancient book that had been hidden there for centuries. It is, of course, no ordinary book, and it quickly transpires that it has dreadful and dangerous demonic power. Greene has to overcome not only the book’s diabolic enchantment but also the attempts to steal it by a man who is evil personified.

What makes this book an absolute joy to read and a real page-turner is not so much the plot, which is exciting but not new, but the language, especially when Anson describes the horrific manifestations of evil. The real joy, however, lies in the characters, which Anson has fleshed out to such an extent that I yearn for Richard Greene and his long-suffering but indomitable wife, Theodosia, to invite me round for dinner and amuse me with their conversation and humorous banter. Greene and his wife were real people, and Anson, for a bit of light relief amongst the satanic darkness, describes beautifully and often hilariously their imagined interactions with the likes of Samuel Johnson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Erasmus Darwin, and David Garrick.

This is, in fact, book two of a trilogy, the first being The Burning Zone, which I am going to read as soon as I’ve finished this review. This is one of the most enjoyable and unputdownable books I have read in a long time, and I look forward impatiently to the publication of Book 3. I can’t recommend this book enough.