AD1311.
A Templer in disguise.
A dangerous scientist.
A killer who turns hearts to iron…

Since I first read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum as a school kid, I’ve been partial to stories about the Knights Templars. So how could I turn away from this premise? Especially when the book is titled Inquisition by Alfredo Colitto (originally Cuore di Ferro or Heart of Iron in Italian and translated by Sophie Henderson). There’s been a plethora of historical conspiracy books since The Da Vinci Code hit big time, many disappointing. I love historical mysteries and when the history and mystery are balanced just right, it can be an exquisitely thrilling and informative read.

Colitto’s novel featuring the fourteenth century physician and anatomist, Mondino de Liuzzi, does just that. Set in Bologna, Europe’s oldest university town, it’s a refreshing change from the usual geographical culprits in historical crime fiction. Mondino is also an intriguing figure, a political and religious dissenter, a visionary in the ever-changing field of medieval medicine and an exile returned. As much as he is a thinking man, he is also a fighter who can look out for himself.

When one of Mondino’s students asks for his help after a suspicious fire sweeps through his university neighbourhood and a Knight Templar lies dead, Mondino is swept into the path of a frightening killer who has the ability to turn living tissue into iron. Amidst the alchemists and the current persecution of the Templars by Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V, he discovers that his student Gerardo is a clandestine Templar sought after by the Inquisition. With the threat of arrest hanging over them, they must uncover the killer who seems to be targeting rogue Templars before all hell breaks loose.

Colitto’s Bologna is rich in detail, a bustling city with busy academics, strutting politicians, discreet bankers and suspicious monks. There is a lot of historical detail but Colitto blends this effortlessly into the tale. Mondino is an experienced and well-travelled physician, a widower with a young family but unable to shake off his roguish ways. Gerardo is a young Templar monk, just ordained, only to find his order besmirched, ruined and hunted by the Inquisition. Together they make an interesting pair. Add to this a sinister Templar with a secret, a banker who caters to the Templars with a beautiful, disfigured daughter, an Arabic alchemist with a reputation as a witch and you have a very colourful mystery.

I think one of the things I really liked about this book was that there was just enough historical depth to it, no dumbing down and with some interesting discussions on medicine, philosophy and religion. Mondino and his family are Ghibellines who are looked upon with suspicion by the Pope’s supporters and have to navigate the political and religious minefield of fourteenth century Bologna while still maintaining their status and livelihood as physicians. Also, fourteenth century Italy seemed to have been a hub of travel and information exchange. In a period when Arabic texts were being rediscovered and translated into Latin (albeit with a Christian twist) leading up to the Renaissance, there also seemed to be a lot of mingling of travellers from around the world. The Arabic alchemist Adia, apart from being a woman, is also a fascinating figure, one who is always poised for flight should the tide turn against her.

I really enjoyed Inquisition and hope to meet Mondino and Gerardo in further adventures.

You can read an interview of Colitto by Hersilia Press here.

I read this as part of R.I.P. VII.