About the Book
Three exhilarating novellas following the early adventures of young priest Giordano Bruno in the dramatic days of sixteenth century Italy.
The Secret Dead – During the summer of 1566, a girl’s body is found within the walls of a Neapolitan monastery. Novice monk Giordano Bruno has a habit of asking difficult questions, but this time his investigations may lose him his place in the Dominican Order – or deliver him into the hands of the Inquisition.
The Academy of Secrets – An invitation arrives from a secret society of enlightened philosophers, led by the eccentric Don Giambattista della Porta. Bruno is captivated – even more so when he meets della Porta’s beautiful niece. But keeping these new heretical secrets soon becomes a matter of life or death…
A Christmas Requiem – When Giordano Bruno is told the Pope wants to see him, he fears he may be walking into a trap. The Pope is intrigued by Bruno’s talent for complex memory games, but Rome is a den of intrigue, trickery and blood, and Bruno will be lucky to escape the Eternal City alive.
Format: Hardcover (240 pages) Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: 12th November 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction
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I’ve read all the books in S. J. Parris’s Giordano Bruno series – Heresy, Prophecy, Sacrilege, Treachery, Conspiracy – with the exception of the latest, Execution. I was therefore delighted to receive The Dead of Winter as a birthday present from my husband. The Dead of Winter comprises three novellas – The Secret Dead, The Academy of Secrets and A Christmas Requiem, along with an excerpt from Execution. Readers should be aware that all three stories have been published individually in ebook format: The Secret Dead in June 2014 and The Academy of Secrets in March 2020. Only A Christmas Requiem is a new story although it is also available separately as an ebook.
The fact the first two novellas are repackaged versions of previously published standalone stories probably accounts for the fact there is some repetition in their opening pages. Also it was only when I consulted Goodreads that I realized I’d already read The Secret Dead back in 2015. Fortunately, given the lapse of time, I didn’t recall much of the story.
Giordano Bruno’s escapades in The Secret Dead and The Academy of Secrets reveal the characteristics that readers of the series will have come to know: his interest in furthering his knowledge of anatomy and science, often only to be found in forbidden texts; his habit of asking questions and challenging the established teaching of the Church; and his impetuous nature. As he admits, “I already knew what it meant to harbour secret beliefs in your heart, beliefs that could lead you into the flames…”. The opportunity to gain access to a secret library containing many of those forbidden texts proves irresistible. As it turns out, it’s not the only thing that proves irresistible.
A Christmas Requiem in which Giordano Bruno is summoned to Rome by Pope Pius V was my favourite of the stories, not only because of the location but also because of its seasonal setting. I enjoyed witnessing Giordano’s wide-eyed reaction to seeing the Eternal City, including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I especially liked the section in which he attends Cardinal d’Este’s Christmas Eve party which, as well as presenting him with temptations of the flesh, allows him to witness the lavish lifestyle of those who preach the virtues of abstinence and self-denial to others. “There were stews of boar, beef and venison; plates of fish and shellfish; fresh pasta stuffed with cheeses and pine nuts; pies and pastries; roasted game birds and songbirds in thick sauces of cream and herbs; seven different kinds of bread.” Unsurprisingly, Giordano Bruno soon finds himself caught up in the personal rivalries between powerful men – and women. It’s a pattern that will be repeated in years to come.
Although the three novellas are more accounts of the escapades of the young Giordano Bruno than murder mysteries in the manner of the full length novels, for fans of the series they give an insight into the formation of the character they have come to know from the books. And for new readers, unsure about whether to embark upon the series, they provide a tasty appetizer.
In three words: Entertaining, lively, assured
About the Author
No.1 Sunday Times bestseller S. J. Parris is the pseudonym of the author and journalist Stephanie Merritt. It was as a student at Cambridge researching a paper on the period that Stephanie first became fascinated by the rich history of Tudor England and Renaissance Europe. Since then, her interest has grown and led her to create this series of historical thrillers featuring Giordano Bruno.
Stephanie has worked as a critic and feature writer for a variety of newspapers and magazines, as well as radio and television. She has also written the contemporary psychological thriller While You Sleep under her own name. She currently writes for the Observer and the Guardian, and lives in Surrey with her son. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)