Alfredo Colitto’s Inquisition begins with an intriguing prologue that reminds me of a fairy tale or a fantasy novel. Three Templar Knights receive mysterious letters, cryptically assuring them that they will find “the secret they seek” in Bologna. This secret is that of alchemy, how to change human blood into iron and, from there, possibly into gold.
Some time later, physican Mondino de Liuzzi is approached by Gerardo, whom Mondino knows as a medical student, but who turns out to be a Templar Knight. Gerardo brings with him a corpse he found of a Templar Knight whose heart had been, literally, turned into iron. Thus Gerardo and Mondino get caught up in the mystery — who killed this Knight and why? How did the killer turn the victim’s heart into iron?
Historical mysteries are usually more about the atmosphere and characters than the action (I’m thinking mostly of C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series), but Inquisition is definitely action-packed. Many scenes had Mondino and Gerardo having to punch their way out of tight spots, and honestly a lot of that bored me. I was more intrigued about the mystery of how human blood and tissue can be turned into metal, and given how intelligent and logical Mondino was, I was expecting a very scientific answer along the lines of Michael Crichton and James Rollins. The explanation, as given to Mondino by a female alchemist, turned out vague and more magic-based than I would have liked, and I was disappointed.
The book also focused more on the murder mystery than the alchemical one. Mondino and Gerardo travel to the seedy underworld of their city to investigate the victim’s life, and when a second victim shows up, track down leads related to him as well. Normally, I’m up for an action-packed mystery, but in this case, I was disappointed that the alchemical mystery, which had me excited since the prologue, wasn’t explored as much.
I loved some parts of the book, especially when Mondino uses his medical background to bluff his way into a suspect’s room and interrogate him. I also like how Mondino is conflicted about having violated his Hippocratic oath to prevent a pedophile priest from continuing to harm children. I like Mondino as a character; he’s intelligent and takes care of a sick father. I love one incident in particular that defined Mondino for me — offered his freedom as long as he says a Templar knight committed the murders using sorcery, Mondino hesitates, not because he doesn’t want to blame an innocent man (“he could not sacrifice himself and his family to save Gerardo”), but because it meant “swearing a falsehood” and declaring “something that was contrary to science.” He can always gain absolution from the church, but his reputation in the scientific community would be ruined forever. I like that about him.
I did however end up skimming some parts of the book, and to be honest, I’m not sure why. There were parts that I found boring; perhaps some action scenes dragged on too long. I think the intellectual puzzles in this book were so potentially fascinating that when I see a chase scene or a fight scene, I just think, okay, next please. Colitto also includes several detailed scenes of Mondino practicing medicine; in some cases I found it fascinating, and in others, I found my attention wandering. Other things bothered me as well, like a beggar in the 14th century saying “He stole my stuff!” Nit picky, but the word “stuff” stood out against the more formal language in the rest of the scene.
Still, when we do find out who the killer is, and the motive behind the killings, I found myself absolutely engrossed in the story. I hadn’t guessed the killer or the motive at all, and to be honest, had forgotten most of what the letter in the prologue had said. I re-read the prologue after finding out the killer’s identity and had an “Aha” moment. After the big reveal however, it became a matter of wrapping things up, and I found my attention wandering again.
Overall, not a bad book. Some parts were really exciting, like the reveal of who the murderer is and what the motive is behind the killings. Other parts were just okay. Mondino is an interesting character, definitely a scientist before his time.