QUERCUS, £12.99 Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Death and the Devil, By Frank Schätzing
A fresh whiff of Cologne
Tuesday 15 September 2009
Frank Schätzing was well-known in Germany for his historical novels before he achieved international recognition with his ecological thriller, The Swarm. Death and the Devil is a medieval mystery, set in 13th-century Cologne. In the shadow of the cathedral, still under construction, Jacob the Fox, a beggar conspicuous by his red hair, has the ill-luck to espy a murder – and the murderer spies him.
There follows a game of cat-and-mouse through the city, from its markets to its middens, as Jacob is pursued by an assassin armed with a strange crossbow. The chase creates a colourful picture of medieval city life, taking us into some dangerous places, including a leper colony.
As in all the best medieval romances, a beautiful young woman comes to Jacob's aid. But the unheroic Fox becomes involved in a vicious political imbroglio. The death he witnessed was that of the architect of the cathedral, and the incident merely one stage in a bitter conflict between church and state. The Archbishop of Cologne is locked in a power-struggle with rich patrician families, and neither side has scruples; they use any means to gain their ends.
The book, translated by Mike Mitchell, rises well above the level of most historical mysteries by its inclusion of the religious debates of the time. It is hard now for us to visualise the theological climate in which matters such as the nature of sin were discussed as keenly as football today, but this intellectual atmosphere is vividly brought to life.
In another respect, we might find identification easier: this is a society suffering from the effects of foreign conflict. Old Crusaders with post-traumatic stress disorders, the effects of horrible sights in foreign countries, are stalking the land. How might they be serving the lofty burghers of the city? The hunts around stinking alleys and rich mansions are well done, deeply enriched by historical research, and the setting a freshly enjoyable one for the UK reader – though there is an entertaining British connection at the end.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 2 Iain Duncan Smith's expenses credit card is suspended after he runs up £1,000 debt to taxpayer
- 3 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 4 French woman dies in freak bungee jumping accident
- 5 Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck to divorce and end their 10-year marriage
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
Tunisia beach attack: How can British Muslims respond to the latest outrages?