The Dead of Winter

Written by S. J. Parris
Review by Kristen McDermott

Fans of Parris’s successful series of mysteries starring the Renaissance scholar and mystic Giordano Bruno will welcome this trio of stories exploring the fascinating man’s origins. The first two stories, “The Secret Dead” and “The Academy of Secrets,” have been published previously, while the third, “The Dead of Winter,” is a new story set during the Christmas season of 1569, and explains what propelled Bruno to England to begin his fictional career as an investigator for Queen Elizabeth I, recounted in bestselling novels like Heresy and Treachery.

Young Giordano, a novice at the Neapolitan monastery of San Domenico Maggiore in the 1560s, is both brilliant and troublesome, resisting the unquestioning acceptance of dogma demanded by his order and his religion during the turbulent days of the counter-Reformation and the Inquisition. Parris is brilliant at evoking the everyday sensory experience of life in Renaissance Italy, and her characters have compelling, realistic voices. The crimes involved in the stories are much less interesting than the hints of political and intellectual upheaval swirling around Bruno. He finds himself of interest – both benign and sinister – to powerful figures in the church and the nobility, as he pursues his illicit education in anatomy and natural philosophy.

This volume seems designed both to appeal to the holiday fiction market and to attract readers to the latest volume in the series, Execution, published in 2020 and set in 1586. It’s a fine introduction to the fast-changing world of the Renaissance as seen through the eyes of one of the first true scientists of the early modern age. Bruno remains an inspiration to liberal thinkers in all the centuries since his untimely death at the hands of the Inquisition in 1600, but Parris no doubt plans to make the most of the historical years remaining to Bruno in forthcoming volumes.