Historical, Mystery, Thriller and Suspense, Literary Fiction.
An astounding work of fiction that thoroughly inhabits the two worlds it uses as locations. We spend time with Liesbeth Jannsen and those who torture, those who support her, in 17th century Holland. And we spend time with Will, a contemporary detective in the USA. How the two are related is central to the story.
Liesbeth is convicted as a witch during the appalling witch trials that accompanied the general hysteria of Christian religion at the time all over Europe and later in the US. We learn exactly what happened to her, and why. Greed, as usual, is the driving force behind her accusers, all men of the church. On this occasion, however, they have made a fatal mistake and will regret it.
The details and nature of the passages relating to Liesbeth are so convincing it is difficult for the reader to determine whether she was a real person or a brilliantly conceived fiction. We are treated to a few accounts of her treatment but only learn the full story in the last instance. Some accounts of the torture and of her vengeance are graphically violent, but this is far from gratuitous violence as it is essential to the story. However, those readers of a delicate constitution may need to be aware of this aspect of the story.
Will, the American police detective, is charged with solving the sudden outbreak of what appear to be serial killings. In the process, he falls in love, and lust, with Emily, a local bookshop owner, drawn as an exotic and alluring figure of mystery and some conjecture. Throughout his search for the perpetrator of the crimes, he makes valiant attempts to maintain an open mind regarding all suspects, but events make this increasingly difficult. His developing attachment to Emily forms the bulk of the story outside the detective element but entwined with it.
Only one element of the story was a little disappointing for me. There is a parallel in the activity and attitude of the serial killer with the appalling Biblical myth of Eve and the apparent determination of her god to visit tragedy on all her gender because of the sin she is depicted as committing. I felt a real chance of dismissing this dreadful lie about women was missed, but that’s a personal hobbyhorse of mine. At least the ‘justice’ of such an outcome was brought into question.
The reader is alternately convinced Will has found the truth only to be similarly convinced he is mistaken, so the journey becomes a roller coaster of emotions.
Because the characters are so completely formed and drawn with empathy it is difficult not to feel sympathy with them.
This book is not easy to put down. But I would recommend it not be read before sleep unless you enjoy nightmares.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]