Treachery: A Novel (Giordano Bruno Thriller)

Written by S. J. Parris
Review by Kristen McDermott

Parris’s popular series of mysteries featuring the philosopher-martyr, Giordano Bruno, is being reissued by Pegasus in the US. The fourth in the series, Treachery, originally published in 2014, finds Bruno near the end of his real-life English adventures, traveling in 1585 to Plymouth with his patron and friend, the poet Sir Philip Sidney, to help Sir Francis Drake investigate the suspicious death of one of his sailors.

Parris has been justly praised for creating a sleuth who is both the very definition of a “Renaissance man,” but who speaks to modern readers in a voice full of wit and humanity. Because Bruno was a man ahead of his time (he was martyred in 1600 for heresy, having angered the church for embracing the “new” model of an infinite universe rather than the Church’s preferred geocentric model), he offers a refreshingly irreverent perspective on the now-familiar politics and intrigues of Tudor history. An Italian and an outsider, he both admires the English for their courage and practicality, while he understands the hypocrisy and venality of such familiar Tudor “stars” as Francis Walsingham and Queen Elizabeth, who have granted him a haven in England from persecution by the Inquisition, but who demand his investigative services in return. His powers of observation make him a gifted sleuth, and his personal charm invites all kinds of people, from street urchins to tavern keepers to passionate well-born widows, to trust him with their secrets.

This novel wears both its history and its procedural aspects lightly, focusing instead on vivid characterizations, careful description, and lively dialogue. References to his earlier adventures in previous novels are brief and serve chiefly to explain his emotional reactions, but this adventure works well on its own. It’s well worth the time it takes to meander through its nearly 600 pages.