“Devil in the Countryside” by Cory Barclay

 

At first glance, this story is a Murder Mystery under the guise of Historical Fiction. Fair enough, because the forces of history at that time were so strong as to completely overwhelm any supposed detective work being done, and throw logic and justice out the window. Which makes the book Historical Fiction after all.

The setting is Northern Europe at the time of Martin Luther and the Counter-Reformation. Society was torn apart by the schism between the two sides of Christianity. Add the population’s superstitious fear of the supernatural in general, and you get a milieu where the (historically accurate) Werewolf of Bedburg can thrive. Gory murder abounds.

The main hero, Investigator Heinrich Franz, seems to be trying to act like a modern detective, but social pressures sideline any logical progress he might make.

The result is a rather typical (for that era) working out of all the fears, hatreds, and political/religious strife of the region, a juggernaut that rolls over the populace with a crushing weight of torture, injustice and cruel execution.

The strength of the story is in the creation of likeable characters whose gradual extinction by the violence of the times rouses indignation and fear in the reader. Fans of horror will appreciate the details of the violence, graphically laid out. For those who enjoy more refined conflict, a high point of the story is the effect of Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” on a Catholic priest who is suffering a crisis of faith.

On the down side, for some of us there is just too much history. In one scene the writer uses the boredom of a character with nothing to do as an excuse to dump a history lesson on us. Rather ironic.

And this is where the preferences of readers are going to matter. I know it was a rough time in history, but except for a few notable exceptions, the characters in this novel are loud, crude, and emotional. They spend their time antagonizing each other and getting into screaming matches at the drop of a glove. If you like that kind of veracity, this book is for you. If you really enjoy historical detail, there is plenty.

A minor flaw that true historians might object to is the use of modern expressions such as “damage control,” “okay,” and “I guess you’ve come to the right place.” In fact, there is a faint modern thread running through the whole story. Several times I found myself saying, “Would they really have acted like that in those times?” and then I would be swept away again by the Renaissanceness of it all.

Recommended for Historical Fiction fans with strong stomachs.

4 Stars (4 / 5)

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