The Flowers of Evil

Written by Simon Acland
Review by Steve Donoghue

Readers of Simon Acland’s previous book (The Waste Land), in which the adventures of 12th-century crusader Hugh de Verdon are reconstructed and published by the hapless dons of present-day St. Lazarus’ College, Oxford, will be delighted to read that book’s new sequel, The Flowers of Evil, in which the dons continue Hugh’s hair-raising escapades. But new readers can jump right in without a qualm, mainly due to Acland’s ingenious conceit of having our present-day Oxford narrators unobtrusively provide all the exposition anybody could ever want. In fact, in this current novel, where Hugh climbs mountains, visits holy men, fights desperate battles in the Holy Land (and elsewhere) and makes dedicated enemies (including a Knight Templar ominously named Payn), his tale-telling dons encounter dangers of their own (for which they’re hilariously ill-equipped). Acland manages all this with an absolutely assured virtuosity and a sly humor that peaks out whenever it can (at one point one of the Oxford dons testily reminds another, “Saint Stephen was stoned. And Saint Lawrence was burnt to death—on a gridiron, for Christ’s sake”). This is a series one can easily hope will continue forever. Highly recommended.