Written by Catherine Jinks
Published by Minotaur Books
Review by Kris Carabetta
It seems that not only the Rolling Stones have sympathy for the Devil—Catherine Jinks does as well. After reading The Inquisitor, the reader may join the club.
Ms. Jinks takes us back to 14th century France during a time of active Inquisition by the Holy Roman Church which was actively seeking out heretics such as Cathars and Gnostics as well as individuals who happened to profess something that disagreed with church doctrine. The specialty of the time were The Spirituals, a branch of the Franciscan order which demanded that its members harken back to the original teaching of poverty versus the official stance of moderation taken by the church of Rome. These Spirituals were shunned by the “true church” and more prosperous citizens of Europe but were embraced by the poor. The Spirituals eventually gained a foothold in southern France by allying themselves with the Beguins, a group of priests and laypersons who saw corruption in the runnings of the church.
The church’s response to this threat against its power was the institution of “inquisitors” in each parish. The role of the inquisitor was to root out the support system for the Spirituals by threatening loss of earthly goods as well as excommunication to those that harbored or aided Spirituals. The priest, Bernard Gui, wrote a tome on the exact extent of church law concerning heretics. There were guidelines dictating types of heresies and their corresponding penalties. He even gave guidelines for the interrogation techniques needed for the extraction of a heretical confession. These inquisitors were not necessarily the cruel, sadistic persons that history paints them as. Often, the mere threat of an inquisition or church trial was enough to cause confession. Usually this resulted in a small penance such as a local pilgrimage or the wearing of a badge for a certain amount of time. But, as in all professions, the over enthusiastic who took their job very, very seriously. It is these priests which gained the reputation for sadism and gave all inquisitors an aura of cruel injustice. It is this aspect which makes Jinks’s choice of antagonist so ironic.
The hero of our story is Father Bernard Peyre of Prouille. He is an assistant “Inquisitor of Heretical Depravity” in charge of confessions and care of prisoners. His supervisor passes away and is replaced with Father Augustin, an elderly man who seems to be oddly entranced with four women who live nearby. During a visit to these women, he is butchered along with his bodyguards. Now, Bernard must solve the mystery of his murder while coping with a third Chief Inquisitor newly arrived on the job. Just when things seem to be getting complicated, the new Chief reveals an obsession with the occult while Bernard finds himself similarly obsessed with the women that Father Augustin had been visiting.
What makes this book so very unique is the choice of protagonists and setting. When one thinks of the Inquisition, some people automatically remember the inept Cardinal Fang of Monty Python fame who can never seem to keep track of his weapons. Otherwise, it was a time in history when the church became infamous for inventing some of the most hideous torture devices known to man. Heretics were questioned, tortured, burnt, and hung in the name of the Lord. These men were often portrayed as villainous zealots who took the word of the Pope more than a little too far. Ms. Jinks, however, reveals what is true of most men: everyone has a human side.
Kris Carabetta is a fan of historical fiction.