Execution by S. J. Parris

Publisher: Harper Collins (Trade Paperback – 24 July 2020)

Series: Giordano Bruno – Book Six

Length: 484 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Conspiracy, betrayal and treason.  The heretic monk Giordano Bruno returns for another outstanding and exciting historical murder mystery with Execution, the latest impressive release from S. J. Parris.

England, 1586.  Queen Elizabeth I rules England as a protestant queen, but not everyone is enamoured with her rule.  Many people throughout the world, including the hidden Catholic population of England, wish her gone and replaced by her cousin, the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots.  Into this hotbed of English conspiracy and treason returns Giordano Bruno, former monk turned heretic and occasional spy for Elizabeth.

Bruno has obtained troubling information about a potential conspiracy and travels to London to deliver it to the Queen’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham.  His information confirms that a group of Catholic Englishmen are planning to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and liberate Mary.  However, rather than being shocked by the news, Walsingham reveals that he is aware of the plot and is hoping to use it to obtain proof of Mary’s treason, allowing for the removal of the greatest threat to Elizabeth’s rule.

Brought into this piece of espionage, Bruno is tasked with infiltrating the conspirators under the guise of a Spanish agent and ensuring that their attempted plot proceeds the way Walsingham desires.  However, Bruno’s mission becomes complicated when another one of Walsingham’s agents, a young woman, is brutally murdered, apparently due to her connection to the conspirators.  Was the victim’s murder related to the assassination plot that Bruno now finds himself in the middle of or are more sinister forces at play?  Can Bruno solve the murder before his cover is blown and will his actions save Queen Elizabeth from the assassin’s blade?  Either way, a queen will die!

Now this was an extremely enjoyable and incredible piece of historical murder mystery fiction.  Execution is the sixth novel in the awesome Giordano Bruno series which is written by S. J. Parris, the pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt.  This fantastic series follows the adventures of the titular Giordano Bruno, a real-life Italian monk, academic and heretical thinker, who roamed around Europe during this period and who did act as a spy for the English under the employ of Walsingham.  I have been a major fan of Parris’s series for a while now and I have really enjoyed several of the preceding novels in the series which deal with some fascinating and compelling conspiracies and murders that Bruno finds himself involved with.  As a result, I have been looking forward to this new novel for a while and I knew that I would have an awesome time reading Execution when it came out.

It turns out that my patience was well worth it as Execution proved to be an incredible novel that presented the reader with an exceedingly compelling and addictive historical murder mystery/thriller.  The story follows Bruno as he not only infiltrates a group of conspirators but also investigates the murder of a young woman.  These separate story points are strongly linked and Bruno’s success as a spy is tied into the result of the murder investigation, as the murderer may have the ability to blow Bruno’s cover or reveal to the conspirator.  I absolutely loved the resultant story as Parris produced a complex tale of betrayal, double dealing, espionage, political intrigue and murder.  Parris ensures that there are a huge number of twists and surprise reveals throughout the course of the book, and the eventual conclusion of the story is very well established and extremely compelling.  This all results in a powerful and thrilling narrative that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat as the protagonist is drawn deeper into the conspiracy and gets closer to revealing the villain’s true identity.  I loved the final reveal about the overall antagonist and their motivations, as it was both excellently foreshadowed and hard to predict with the story having the potential to go in several other intriguing directions.  This was a truly amazing story and I had a wonderful time working my way through it in order to see how it turned out.

I was also really impressed with the historical setting that Parris utilised for her story: Elizabethan London on edge as the plots to place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne come to fruition.  I felt that the author did a fantastic job bringing this historical and dangerous version of London to life, and the protagonist ends up exploring several key areas of the city.  This included the notorious entertainment area of Southwark, which proved to be a significant area for the story and which is shown in all its sleazy glory.  I also liked how Parris was able to cleverly work her mystery and espionage story around a historical and well-documented plot to assassinate the Queen.  The author comes up with some great ways for the events of the real conspiracy to impact on the overall story while also doing a fantastic job of examining key elements of the plot, such as who the key players were, what they were up to and how Sir Francis Walsingham had spies in their midst the entire time.  I felt that Parris’s narrative synced up perfectly with this real-life conspiracy and I liked seeing the various interactions between Bruno and the various historical figures that he encounters, including Walsingham, his spies and the various conspirators.  This fantastic attention to historical detail really helped to make Execution a first-rate story and I look forward to seeing which events or conspiracies Parris bases her next Giordano Bruno novel around.

Perhaps it is because it has been a few years since the previous entry in the Giordano Bruno series, but I was particularly happy to read Bruno’s point of view.  Bruno is an excellent protagonist whose fictional adventures are only slightly more unrealistic then his chaotic real life.  The author once again does a great job exploring Bruno’s unique life experiences, including by expanding on his view on Catholicism and religion, as well as his unique obsession with the art of memory and other philosophical practices.  Parris has so far cleverly worked the series around the events of Bruno’s life, including his time in England, and this novel ties into Bruno’s work as an agent for Walsingham.  I liked the author’s portrayal of the character as a reluctant spy and misunderstood intellectual, and it was great to see his attempts to go undercover and infiltrate a band of fanatical Catholics, especially thanks to his own lapsed views on religion.  The story makes a number of references to Bruno’s past adventures and also reintroduces several friends and antagonists from the prior novels.  Despite this, you do not really need to have read any of Parris’s previous Giordano Bruno novels as the author makes Execution extremely accessible, with the reader receiving all the relevant details about the referenced adventures or characters.  It was, however, great to see these existing story elements continue throughout Execution, including the return of Bruno’s slippery and mysterious love interest, Sophia, and I cannot wait to see more of this character in the future.  Bruno has a lot of very interesting life events coming up in his future, so this serious has a lot of potential to continue in the future, something for which I am really grateful for.

Overall, Execution by S. J. Parris was an outstanding and captivating novel that serves as a fantastic sixth entry in the amazing Giordano Bruno series.  This novel contains an intelligent and truly addictive historical mystery narrative that works a compelling murder mystery into the chaotic politics and insidious conspiracies of the era.  This book is worth checking out as once you start trying to unwrap Execution’s intriguing mystery you won’t be able to stop reading it until the very end.  A highly recommended read, I really hope that the next Giordano Bruno novel comes out soon.

Waiting on Wednesday – Upcoming Historical Fiction Novels

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday post, I check out three historical fiction novels coming out in the next couple of months that I think have an amazing amount of potential.

The Last Greek Cover

The first of these books is The Last Greek by Christian Cameron. The Last Greek will be the second book in The Commander series and it is the sequel to the 2019 release, The New Achilles. This series follows the life of an incredible and somewhat overlooked historical figure, the Greek hero Philopoemen, and the first book has already examined some of the key early events of his life. It looks like this upcoming second book will explore some of the central years of his life and should make for quite an interesting read.

Goodreads Synopsis:

211BCE. The Roman invasion from the western seas is imminent, and from the south the Spartans are burning and pillaging their way north.

Battle-hardened Philopoemen believes the Achean League is facing annihilation if it does not arm. But without a formal army or cavalry, they don’t stand a chance. Convincing his friend and healer Alexanor that the threat is real, together they begin to build a massive cavalry guard from the ground up – one that will fight on all fronts.

It is the last roll of the dice for the Achean League. But Alexanor knows Philopoemen is one of the greatest warriors Greece has ever known – the New Achilles. The Last Greek.

This is a very intriguing synopsis, and I cannot wait to see where the story goes. The historical period that this novel is set in was quite a chaotic time, with all manner of battles and wars for the control of Greece. The previous book in the series did a great job of setting up the various sides in the conflict. Cameron is quite a detail-orientated author, so The Last Greek is guaranteed to contain a well-researched and methodical novel that will accurately depict many of the key events surrounding Philopoemen’s life and present a fascinating and enjoyable historical story. This book is set for release here in Australia on 16 April, and I have already put in a request for it.

Execution Cover

The next book I am going to look at is Execution by S. J. Parris, which is the sixth book in the Giordano Bruno series. The Giordano Bruno series by Parris (a pseudonym of writer Stephanie Merritt), is an amazing historical murder mystery/thriller series set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It follows its titular character, Giordano Bruno, a radical monk exiled to England, as he solves murders and helps uncover Catholic conspiracies against the Queen. I have been a fan of this series for a while, and have read several of Parris’s previous books, each of which has been extremely intriguing and captivating. As a result, I am really looking forward to getting the next book in the series, especially as it sounds like Parris has come up with a great plot for this latest novel.

Goodreads Synopsis:

England, 1586.

A TREASONOUS CONSPIRACY
Giordano Bruno returns to England to bring shocking new intelligence to Sir Francis Walsingham. A band of Catholic Englishmen are plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth and spring Mary Queen of Scots from prison to take the English throne in her place.

A DEADLY TRAP
Bruno is surprised to find that Walsingham is aware of the plot, led by the young, wealthy noble Anthony Babington, and is allowing it to progress. His hope is that Mary will put her support in writing and condemn herself to a traitor’s death.

A QUEEN IN MORTAL DANGER
Bruno is tasked with going undercover to join the conspirators. Can he stop them before he is exposed? Either way a queen will die; Bruno must make sure it is the right one.

This latest book sounds particularly compelling, and I am excited for another excellent historical thriller that explores all the intrigue and deception surrounding Mary Queen of Scots. Based on the author’s incredible work in the past, I already know that I am going to love this novel, and I am even more intrigued after reading the above synopsis. Set for release in late April 2020, Execution has the potential to be one of the best historical mysteries of the year and I am extremely keen to get a copy.

Lionheart Cover

The final book in this article is Lionheart by Ben Kane. Kane is one of the top authors of historical fiction in the world today, having written several amazing Roman historical series, including The Forgotten Legion trilogy, the Hannibal series, the Spartacus series, the Eagles of Rome series and the Clash of Empires series. I have read a bit of an eclectic mix of his books in the past, including his debut novel, The Forgotten Legion, the first two books in his Eagles of Rome series and the second book in his Hannibal series, Fields of Blood. All of these have been fantastic reads, and I really enjoyed each of them.

The upcoming book, Lionheart, which is due to be released in mid-May, is Kane’s first novel not set in the Roman period. This new book is set in 12th century and will follow the early life of King Richard the Lionheart as he battles his family in order to come to power. There have been some really cool books about Richard over the years, and I am looking forward to seeing Kane’s take on the character.

Goodreads Synopsis:

1179, Henry II’s Norman conquerors have swept through England, Wales – and now Ireland.

Irish nobleman Ferdia has been imprisoned in Wales to ensure the good behaviour of his rebellious father.

But during a skirmish on a neighbouring castle, Ferdia saves the life of the man who would become one of the most legendary warriors to have ever lived: Richard Plantagenet. The Lionheart.

Taken as Richard’s squire, Ferdia crosses the Narrow Sea to resist the rebellious nobles in Aquitaine, besieging castles and fighting bloody battles with brutal frequency.

But treachery and betrayal lurk around every corner. Infuriated by his younger brother Richard’s growing reputation, Henry rebels. And Ferdia learns that the biggest threat to Richard’s life may not be a foreign army – but Richard’s own family . . .

As you can see from the above, the historical fiction genre is set to have a strong couple of months. Each of these novels sound like they can be a lot of fun, and each of them has been written by an outstandingly talented author whose works I have enjoyed in the past. As a result, I have extremely high hopes for each of these historical fiction novels, and I am incredibly excited to read all three of them.