The Devils of Cardona

Written by Matthew Carr
Review by Martha Hoffman

Amid rumors of rising rebellion in Aragon, royal decree sends former soldier and now judge Bernardo de Mendoza to investigate the murder of a priest in the town of Belamar. The cultured and rational Mendoza recruits his swashbuckling cousin Ventura to accompany him, along with the boy whom he rescued from the flames of Granada more than a decade earlier and a wizened veteran of the Imperial Landsknecht.

It is late 16th-century Spain, and pampered courtiers, self-flagellating Inquisitors, brutish counts, womanizing priests, oppressed Moriscos, and bandits abound. Carr signals fairly clearly who is good and bad, and lends a more modern open-mindedness to those with whom the reader will sympathize, although with enough depth of detail in their experience to make those sensibilities seem reasonable. Despite an unfortunate number of clichés in characterizations, the historical details are riveting and well done. Cities, palaces, towns, and countryside spring to life, incorporated into the narrative rather than reading like re-packaged research.

Mendoza and his companions encounter a web of conflicted relationships among Old Christians and supposedly converted former Muslims. The investigation uncovers feuding nobles, corrupt officials, mounting and merciless violence, and, overarching it all, a wide-ranging and at times baffling conspiracy. While some of the details are hard to follow, and some minor but crucial characters take work to keep straight, the story is an exciting page-turner of an adventure.