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Read Strong As Death (1997)

Strong as Death (1997)

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4.01 of 5 Votes: 5
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0812539354 (ISBN13: 9780812539356)

Strong As Death (1997) - Plot & Excerpts

This is a historical novel that takes place in southern France and northern Spain in the year 1142. This happens to be the year Peter Abelard (of Abelard and Heloise fame) died which is noted in this book. However, the main historical character being followed by this book is Peter the Venerable (1092–1156). The book focuses on his journey to Spain that year to meet with translators to make arrangements to translate the Arabic Qur'an (Koran) into Latin. Some scholars consider this to be a momentous event in the intellectual history of Europe. This is about the time when some of the writings of Aristotle (and other ancients) were being translated into Latin for the first time after being lost in the years following the fall of the Roman Empire. This was a time when the Islamic scholars were more advanced than scholars of western Christendom.However, a warning to history buffs, the history in this book is only a backdrop to a fictional murder mystery plot. It is the fourth in a series of ten books in the "Catherine LeVendeur Series" by Sharan Newman. Sharan Newman goes out of her way to make the historical setting historically accurate. Much of the book takes place within the context of a traveling caravan on a pilgrimage to pray at the fabled Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostela. Placing the story within the setting of a pilgrimage reminds me of The Canterbury Tales. It's a context in which a wide variety of characters can be placed in close proximity, and thus is a natural setting to construct a fictional murder mystery plot. A traveling group containing multiple suspects was sort of reminiscent of Murder on the Orient Express. There's even a cliff-hanger scene in the story to get the reader's adrenaline flowing.I am impressed with the author's ability to portray medieval religious beliefs (including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) with sensitivity and realism. She is able to create sympathetic feelings within 21st Century readers for medieval religion even though the religious thinking of the time appears narrow and harsh to most modern minds. Also, by tying the book to the "Way of St. James" she has written a book about a pilgrimage that many people take today. (One source says 93,921 people made the pilgrimage in 2005). Therefore I decided to give this book four stars even though I usually limit murder mysteries to three stars because I consider the genre to be frivolous literature.

The Middle Ages is certainly my favorite period in history. And I enjoy very much historical fiction set in the Middle Ages. Disappointed when I reached the 2oth and last volume of The Brother Cadfael Chronicles , by Ellis Peters, I had to look for another good medieval mystery series. When I say good, I mean something enjoyable, well written, and definitely well researched, as for the background setting and events.Sharan Newman’s series, Catherine LeVendeur Mysteries, totally fits this description. Plus, I had the bonus of meeting Sharan herself, when I delivered a lecture at the International Medieval Congress on Medieval Studies, at Kalamazoo, MI, a few years ago. She’s a very lively, fun, and has a large knowledge of the Middle Ages. I was present to amazing conversations she had then with Father Chrysogonus Waddell, of happy memory, a Trappist monk who was giving her lots of important background on medieval history for her mysteries. It was so much fun and so much learning at the same time.And this is what I really like in her mysteries. She manages to write great suspense mysteries with very serious background, including theological debates of the time. Her tour de force is of course to have Catherine be a former nun of the Paraclete, where Heloise was abbess. So the Abelard-Heloise relationship and the Bernard of Clairvaux-Abelard conflict is always somewhere lurking.I just regret I read this 4th volume before reading the 3rd of the series, not sure how I managed to do this, but it fit well for my Reading Challenges titles. This is a long book, but such a good page-turner that I devoured it in 2 settings – though I will refrain from telling you at what time I went to bed…original post: @ Words And Peace

What do You think about Strong As Death (1997)?

I wasn't sure how many stars to give this book, but I opted for three because while I didn't exactly like it, I thought it was better than just okay.What impresses me so much about Newman's series is how she is able to make the dialogue accessible to 21st century readers while at the same time sounding plausibly 12th century (at least plausibly for someone who doesn't know much about Medieval history or French). The settings are also fascinating and believable, as are the tensions between Christian and Jew. For this novel and her previous three, the writing is always good: it captures the time, it moves fairly well with the plot, it makes you feel as if you are there.But this novel fell flat for me because of the plot and Catherine's tiresome desire for a child. Although I understand that Jewish-Christian tensions were high, that Christianity was the bulk of people's lives during that time and place, I think I finally just got fed up with hearing/reading about it. Because I am personally so far removed from religion, it's hard to continually read about people whose very breaths are shaped by it. Perhaps because this particular novel is about a religious pilgrimage, it is more prominent here than in previous novels. Whatever the case, I found Catherine's cousin's story much more appealing, and Catherine's desire for a child, while probably historically accurate for many women, irritating. This is the novel that made me dump the series. Actually, I would have kept this and carried on with the series (all books in a series don't automatically hold the same interest for a reader), but the next one looks even more dismal and has a lot to do with Catherine and Edgar's baby and a difficult time to be had by all at Edgar's family home in Scotland. None of that appeals to me, so this is where I bid goodbye to the series.But because I like Newman's writing, I am interested in reading her other mystery that doesn't take place in Medieval France.
—Wendy Kobylarz-Chouvarda

I would say more like 3.5, It's a good series but it's gotten kind of boring. Kathryn's character is a little too good, and the Christian vs. Jew storyline has worn me out. I know it was a very important distinction at the time but in my California agnostic world it's hard to get excited about it. Historical mysteries are sort of my guilty pleasure, I don't read them for their literary quality or even historical accuracy. Usually I like the type with lots of action, suspense and sexual tension. The first book in this series sort of fit the bill but it's been downhill from there.

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