Spain has always been the ultimate in melting pots, providing history with some of the most spectacular clashes between the Christians, Jews and Muslims. The Spanish Inquisition began in the late 15th century, and it was still going strong one hundred years later, the idea being to purge Spain of Muslims and Jews. It must have been an almost impossible task for the Inquisition in all its horror and brutality to still be going one hundred years later, which is when this murder mystery thriller is set.

1584, in the Aragon region, close to the Pyrenees and the border with France, a priest is brutally murdered, the church defaced, and a threatening letter sent to the local Inquisitor. No need to ask what his job is. This threat to the might of the Catholic monarchy is taken very seriously, resulting in a highly regarded and respected criminal judge, Licenciado ­Bernardo Mendoza being appointed to investigate and bring the perpetrator to justice. He takes a small team with him and makes the journey to the small area where the murder took place. 

It becomes very clear that he has ridden into something much more serious than just this one murder. Like much of Spain at this time, the region is very fragmented,  made up of old Christians and new Christians being ex-Muslims. Many of the new Christians still practise their Muslim faith in private. There are also divisions between the villagers and small town dwellers, and the people of the mountains and hills - shepherds, farmers and mountain dwellers. Fear and suspicion abound, the Inquisition is remorseless in its tracking down and treatment of those who don't tow the line. Mendoza must navigate all this in order to get to the bottom of what is going on. And it becomes very clear early on that there is much more at stake than Catholic versus Muslim. As an outsider, with his battle hardened team, he quickly learns he has to tread very carefully amongst the different groups in the region, being blindsided more times than you shake a torture rack at, trying to stay one step ahead of the enemy he does not know, dealing with unexplained acts of violence, and inconsistencies.

This is a great historical thriller, plenty of suspense and tension, tightly held plot, well developed and diverse characters, so much historical detail, very vivid and intelligent writing. I really liked this, really enjoyed reading it. This is the first novel from this non-fiction writer who has an interest in this theme, having written a book on purging Spain of those following the Muslim faith. As we all know, this subject is still just as relevant today as it was five hundred years ago, regardless of the religions or cultures involved. 

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