Book review: Inquisition by Alfredo Colitto

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In 14th century Europe, three Knights Templar each receive a mysterious package containing a single, emaciated human finger wrapped in a piece of black silk.

Each finger has neither skin nor fingernail but the veins – cold, dark and hard – contain blood that has been turned into metal.

Is it alchemy or the work of an ingenious killer?

Italian author Alfredo Colitto’s masterful novel Inquisition, which combines history, science and murder, has been translated into English by Sophie Henderson so that a wider audience can enjoy his thrilling and superbly atmospheric story.

Daring, gripping and steeped in the ancient mysteries of alchemy, it’s a tale of passion and revenge set against the backdrop of the Catholic Inquisition, one of history’s most dangerous eras.

Mondino de Liuzzi is an anatomist at Bologna University, a rational man of science in a land governed by the brutal and irrational Inquisition.

A corpse brought to his laboratory one stormy night defies natural law. The victim is a Templar knight and his heart has been transformed into a block of iron.

Either a skilful artisan has made the heart or there is someone who can change human blood into iron. And if they can change blood into metal, it might be possible to also change it into gold, an essential step to attaining power over life and death.

It’s also the secret that the three Templar knights in Naples, Cyprus and Toledo have been trying desperately to track down for years in a ruthless pursuit of immortality.

When they receive the grisly finger and a letter that hints at other dark practices, they are promised that the secrets of alchemical transformation await them in Bologna, a city in which the trial of the Templars initiated by Philip the Fair and endorsed by Pope Clement V is well under way.

Meanwhile, aided by his headstrong student Gerardo da Castelbretone, a secret knight who is in danger of being accused of a satanic crime, Mondino must outwit both menacing Inquisitors and vengeful Templars if he’s to stop a murderer who threatens to shake the very foundations of Christendom.

Colitto’s story brings to life a city on the cusp of the Renaissance when the advancement of science was edging into a dangerous conflict with decades of religious superiority and superstition.

Into this maelstrom he introduces an intriguing murder mystery in which all sides have everything to gain...and everything to lose.

(Sphere, paperback, £12.99)