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Historical Mysteries

Heresy, Sharan Newman, Tor, $6.99.

Christmas came about a month early for me when I opened my latest St. Martin's shipment and found that Sharan Newman's long anticipated Catherine LeVendeur novel had at last made its appearance. I'm a self-confessed Newmanophile, and I'm always looking to bring new readers to this delicious, captivating and memorable depiction of 12th century France. Newman's central character, Catherine LeVendeur, is one of my favorite in all of mystery - strong, smart, independent and bridging two cultures by virtue of having a Jewish father and a Christian mother (she herself lives as a Christian). Newman is able to illuminate through Catherine the problems and rewards of being a woman in a very specific time and place, which is recreated in an absolutely stunning fashion.

After that build-up, can you resist the actual book? As long time readers of this series know, Catherine has been educated at the Paraclete at the feet of Heloise, of Abelard and Heloise fame, and this installment finds a pregnant Catherine trying to help Heloise's son, Astrolabe, out of a murder charge. Newman leaves no area of Catherine's difficult pregnancy, motherhood of two rambunctious toddlers, religious faith, and complex family feeling (her favorite cousin is a devout Jew) out of her novels, and this is part of the reason Catherine is so memorable. Newman is as well a skillful plotter, writing mysteries as clever as any being written today. As we lucky readers accompany Catherine on her life arc, here's to wishing Sharan Newman many, many productive years of writing ahead.

When I first wrote this review, I recommended starting with Newman's first title, Death Comes as Epiphany. Since then, Newman's first three books have become unavailable - hopefully the publisher is reprinting them in a user friendly mass market edition. This is a series that begs to be consumed in order.

No matter what you English think, in Scotland we usually give people a good meal, plenty to drink and then kill them while they sleep. --from Heresy

If you enjoy Sharan Newman, you may also enjoy Candace Robb, Margaret Frazer, Joan Wolf, Roberta Gellis, and Caroline Roe.

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