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Catherine LeVendeur is a young scholar come to conquer her sin of pride at the Convent of the Paraclete, famous for learning, prayer, and its abbess, the fabled Heloise. When a manuscript the convent produced for the great Abbe Suger disappears, rumors surface saying the book contains sacrilegious passages and will be used to condemn Heloise's famous lover, Peter Abelard. To Catherine LeVendeur is a young scholar come to conquer her sin of pride at the Convent of the Paraclete, famous for learning, prayer, and its abbess, the fabled Heloise. When a manuscript the convent produced for the great Abbe Suger disappears, rumors surface saying the book contains sacrilegious passages and will be used to condemn Heloise's famous lover, Peter Abelard. To save her Order, and protect all she holds dear, Catherine must find the manuscript and discover who altered the text. She will risk disgrace, the wrath of her family and the Church, and confront an evil older than Time itself--and, if she isn't careful, lose her immortal soul. With Death Comes As Epiphany, the first in the Catherine LeVendeur mystery series, medievalist Sharan Newman has woven dark mystery and sparkling romance into a fascinating and richly detailed tapestry of everyday life in twelfth-century France, and one of the most moving love stories of all time: Abelard and Heloise.


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Catherine LeVendeur is a young scholar come to conquer her sin of pride at the Convent of the Paraclete, famous for learning, prayer, and its abbess, the fabled Heloise. When a manuscript the convent produced for the great Abbe Suger disappears, rumors surface saying the book contains sacrilegious passages and will be used to condemn Heloise's famous lover, Peter Abelard. To Catherine LeVendeur is a young scholar come to conquer her sin of pride at the Convent of the Paraclete, famous for learning, prayer, and its abbess, the fabled Heloise. When a manuscript the convent produced for the great Abbe Suger disappears, rumors surface saying the book contains sacrilegious passages and will be used to condemn Heloise's famous lover, Peter Abelard. To save her Order, and protect all she holds dear, Catherine must find the manuscript and discover who altered the text. She will risk disgrace, the wrath of her family and the Church, and confront an evil older than Time itself--and, if she isn't careful, lose her immortal soul. With Death Comes As Epiphany, the first in the Catherine LeVendeur mystery series, medievalist Sharan Newman has woven dark mystery and sparkling romance into a fascinating and richly detailed tapestry of everyday life in twelfth-century France, and one of the most moving love stories of all time: Abelard and Heloise.

30 review for Death Comes As Epiphany

  1. 4 out of 5

    Amalia Gkavea

    I never thought I'd find a mystery set in the Medieval era that would be so plainly boring, but I have. And it wasn't just boring, it was painfully bad. The main character is naive and full of bad choices, even though she's supposed to pass as oh! so intelligent and oh! so ahead of her times. However, in every interaction of hers, she comes across as docile, avoiding conflict with all those who plainly tell her they have the right to control her choices and her life. Her relatives, from her paren I never thought I'd find a mystery set in the Medieval era that would be so plainly boring, but I have. And it wasn't just boring, it was painfully bad. The main character is naive and full of bad choices, even though she's supposed to pass as oh! so intelligent and oh! so ahead of her times. However, in every interaction of hers, she comes across as docile, avoiding conflict with all those who plainly tell her they have the right to control her choices and her life. Her relatives, from her parents to her sister, her uncle, her brother, everyone is a complete boring brute. The only character who is remotely acceptable is Edgar. The mystery itself is not interesting at all, the twists are laughable, and I am pretty certain that the dialogue is far from the way in which French people of the era used to talk. It was outrageous to come across so many modern idioms, it was cringe-worthy. The only elements that kept me reading until the end were Eloise and Abelárd's presence and the descriptions of Medieval France. I had high expectations for this novel, judging by the reviews, but I suppose it wasn't for me. It goes without saying that I will not attempt to start the following installments in the series.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    A quick look (not necessarily exhaustive or complete) through the list of those who have read this book on Goodreads.com shows that I may be the only person of male gender to have read this book. Hmmm, Oh well, I enjoyed it anyway. It's a murder mystery, historical novel (12th Century France), romance and thriller all rolled into one. However, the medieval setting gives the book a mood and tone that will never be found in a modern mystery-romance-thriller novel. It helps for the reader to be fam A quick look (not necessarily exhaustive or complete) through the list of those who have read this book on Goodreads.com shows that I may be the only person of male gender to have read this book. Hmmm, Oh well, I enjoyed it anyway. It's a murder mystery, historical novel (12th Century France), romance and thriller all rolled into one. However, the medieval setting gives the book a mood and tone that will never be found in a modern mystery-romance-thriller novel. It helps for the reader to be familiar with the story of Abélard and Héloïse before reading this book. Otherwise, you'll miss the significance of some things in the book. One twist to this story I found noteworthy; The body of the murdered victim literally falls down on top of the story's heroine while she's walking across a courtyard at night. Talk about a mystery being thrust upon you! She had no choice but to become a 12th Century sleuth and try to solve the mystery. She has several more narrow escapes before the story finally reaches a conclusion. I think the ending will not be anticipated by most readers. This book is first in a series of ten books in the Catherine LeVendeur series written by Sharan Newman. I had previously read the sixth book in the series, and I decided I needed to read the first one to get a better understanding of the characters. I'm not sure I'll have time to read all the books in the series anytime soon. A complete list of the books in this series is listed at the end of this review. I noticed that the author has written an errata that acknoledges and explains some historical inaccuracies in the book. (Note, the website where the errata used to be located is no longer active.) Only a well trained scholar of medieval history would care about the level of detail that she explains there. The story is fictional, but what we're talking about here are details contained in the story that don't fit into 12th Century life. No movie producer has ever worried about this sort of problem. Speaking of historical details, this book has details that the most creative writer of fiction would never dream up. Apparently dried moss was used then (at least by some) for toilet paper. Who would have known such a thing. I can just image the author with this tidbit of historical trivia trying to find a place in the story to mention it. Here's my favorite quote from the book: "Catherine Le Vendeur," he asked sententiously, "have you known this man carnally?" "No father," Catherine answered. "But, with your kind permission, I would very much like to." Now that is the level of sexual explicitness that I can feel comfortable with. List of books in the Catherine LeVendeur series: 1. Death Comes As Epiphany 2. The Devil's Door 3. The Wandering Arm 4. Strong As Death 5. Cursed in the Blood 6. The Difficult Saint 7. To Wear The White Cloak 8. Heresy: A Catherine LeVendeur Mystery 9. The Outcast Dove 10. The Witch in the Well

  3. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    This was an enjoyable murder mystery set in 12th century France. It had a likable pair of characters in Catherine and Edgar; I especially liked Edgar's sense of humor. Although the ending was a bit overly dramatic, and the shift in one of the characters was a tad far fetched, the overall impression was that of a pleasant read. This was an enjoyable murder mystery set in 12th century France. It had a likable pair of characters in Catherine and Edgar; I especially liked Edgar's sense of humor. Although the ending was a bit overly dramatic, and the shift in one of the characters was a tad far fetched, the overall impression was that of a pleasant read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    There's so much more of a gamble making your main character a young unmarried woman in a time when women had few rights and if they came from families with money, their movements were even more restricted. Catherine has been living in an abbey for 3 years with the intention of becoming a nun. Her Mother Superior asks her to pretend to leave the abbey in disgrace to track down a book the abbey produced in honor of a controversial religious figure. Its been rumored that this book has been defaced There's so much more of a gamble making your main character a young unmarried woman in a time when women had few rights and if they came from families with money, their movements were even more restricted. Catherine has been living in an abbey for 3 years with the intention of becoming a nun. Her Mother Superior asks her to pretend to leave the abbey in disgrace to track down a book the abbey produced in honor of a controversial religious figure. Its been rumored that this book has been defaced or altered to bring even more censure upon the controversial religious figure as well as the abbey. So right off the bat we have a big problem. The Mother Superior is so without male supporters that she has to ask a novitiate to sacrifice her family's honor to go get a book? The MOther Superior is friends with the controversial religious figure who is a teacher to many many young men. Surely it would make a lot more sense to involve this guy who has the freedom of his gender to go figure this all out. There's a couple of obvious lapses of logic related to the main character being a young single woman from a wealthy family. At one point, reliable and moral people looking out for Catherine's welfare leave her alone with a man about her age who they don't know in a basement for hours while they try to get a message to her father. I'm sorry but exactly how would that go over with her father??!!? These lapses took me out of the story too often. If you want your main character to be a plucky young novitiate/bloodhound, then make her a modern woman or keep the story in the abbey or within her family. If you really like this kind of story, go read Cora Harrison. Set in Ireland in a time long ago, when women actually held positions of power. The main character is a brehon - a woman of learning, judgment and the respect of her county and the author backs up her main character's actions with information on Irish law and custom. It's truly fascinating and fun.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    I enjoyed many aspects of this book. It is always interesting to see how different life was. In this case particularly how religion played such an important role. There were some aspects that were somewhat overdone for me however (view spoiler)[ The whole Satanism line was somewhat silly to me, particularly when Roger started speechifying (hide spoiler)] . I would be open to reading more of the series though. I enjoyed many aspects of this book. It is always interesting to see how different life was. In this case particularly how religion played such an important role. There were some aspects that were somewhat overdone for me however (view spoiler)[ The whole Satanism line was somewhat silly to me, particularly when Roger started speechifying (hide spoiler)] . I would be open to reading more of the series though.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    I adore ecclesiastical mysteries. It began with with the Brother Cadfael series and ran wild from there. This book had two things going for it: an amazing heroine, and a. beautifully layered mystery. Catherine would be right at home alongside Galileo' s daughters. She's that rarity in the medieval world: intelligent *and* educated. Her piety is somewhat underdeveloped,, but the true lure of the convent for Catherine lay in books: reading writing, assembling. And it is a book that lands Catherine I adore ecclesiastical mysteries. It began with with the Brother Cadfael series and ran wild from there. This book had two things going for it: an amazing heroine, and a. beautifully layered mystery. Catherine would be right at home alongside Galileo' s daughters. She's that rarity in the medieval world: intelligent *and* educated. Her piety is somewhat underdeveloped,, but the true lure of the convent for Catherine lay in books: reading writing, assembling. And it is a book that lands Catherine in a world of trouble, religious politics, family politics, secrets, murder...and perhaps even worldly love. Catherine's voice may be too "modern" for some readers, and the tangle of alliances can be tough to track. I thought I'd figured out the mystery early on, and will happily confess to having landed a juicy red herring instead. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and the development of the characters. I would've enjoyed a little more depth all around, but for the first book of a series, it has plenty of hooks raises lots of questions, but ends well. A reader could stop with this book and be satisfied, or move on to the other titles. Guess which options. I chose?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Felicity

    An engrossing plot, charming heroine and intriguing historical details. The main characters were well-drawn and likeable, and the use of Heloise and Abelard did not seem ponderous or contrived (as use of historical personages in fiction sometimes does.) I liked the thorough depiction of the culture, especially the way people's belief in the supernatural was pervasive and convincing. My only quibble was with the occasional forays into the perspective of secondary characters. I felt it added little An engrossing plot, charming heroine and intriguing historical details. The main characters were well-drawn and likeable, and the use of Heloise and Abelard did not seem ponderous or contrived (as use of historical personages in fiction sometimes does.) I liked the thorough depiction of the culture, especially the way people's belief in the supernatural was pervasive and convincing. My only quibble was with the occasional forays into the perspective of secondary characters. I felt it added little to the story while sacrificing some of the mystery. Note on the audiobook: The narrator was great. Her voices varied, she read dramatically but not bombastically, and her Francophone pronunciation of names added to the atmosphere.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

    Do you like…? • The Middle Ages • Mystery • Historical fiction • Intelligent, zealous, and innocent heroines • Mysticism • France • Sean Connery in Goldfinger The Name of the Rose Then you’ll like this book. My Medieval Studies professor recommended this as a good example of a realistic medieval setting. She was true to her word: Newman slips in interesting facts without once appearing pedantic. We learn about cures for ailments, religious rituals, strained race relations, and chivalrous tournaments as e Do you like…? • The Middle Ages • Mystery • Historical fiction • Intelligent, zealous, and innocent heroines • Mysticism • France • Sean Connery in Goldfinger The Name of the Rose Then you’ll like this book. My Medieval Studies professor recommended this as a good example of a realistic medieval setting. She was true to her word: Newman slips in interesting facts without once appearing pedantic. We learn about cures for ailments, religious rituals, strained race relations, and chivalrous tournaments as easily as you learn about New York from Sex in the City . I was fascinated, but even if you’re not a Medievalist, you can easily enjoy the book without getting bored or distracted. What my professor didn’t tell me about was the complex web of a mystery. The French heroine Catherine leaves her convent to figure out who defaced a holy book and stumbles into theft, heresy, riots, and murder. She tries to solve the crimes using her logic and Christian morality, all while fighting against others’ dismissal of her as a woman. Along the way she meets a suspiciously smart English stoneworker with stormy eyes, a hermit who works magic, real scholars and religious leaders from history, and people who believe wholeheartedly in saints, immortal souls, and the devil. Okay, so maybe it’s Asceticism in the City. The plot is complex, but the storytelling is simple. The moral arguments are intriguing without being preachy or prescriptive. The mystery unfolds at a good pace, and I guessed some of the pieces but not the whole pie. I also liked the romance between Catherine and the English stoneworker. No insta-love, thankfully, but also no I-can’t-stand-the-sight-of-you-and-we-fight-and-fight-until-just-kidding-it’s-love. Some bits were contrived. Catherine seemed to be auditioning for The Three Stooges given the number of things that kept falling on her or tossing her to the ground. There were also a few right place, right time coincidences. Still, these were small enough that I didn’t really mind them. Don’t expect car chases (or even wagon chases), but if you like any of the items above, you’ll like Death Comes as Epiphany.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Amazing. Makes 12th-century France seem very alive and real, and avoids the trap of making characters in a historical novel paragons of the modern day. Later novels fall off in quality, but this one is absolutely top-notch.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elena Santangelo

    Sharan Newman shows her amazing expertise in this era of history, but this isn't all dry facts. Fast paced story, great characters and a satisfying mystery and romance. Sharan Newman shows her amazing expertise in this era of history, but this isn't all dry facts. Fast paced story, great characters and a satisfying mystery and romance.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shivanee Ramlochan

    "This was not the simple piety and gentle human love of the Paraclete. There was something almost wild in this place, a fierce striving. She recognized in it the burning need of Man to reach, straining, to the heavens, just once, to touch the mind of God. The passion of it frightened her even as it lured." Catherine LeVendeur is an anomaly for her time, in 1130s France: a young woman with an 'uncommon' intelligence, bound for holy orders but with an appetite for life's adventures, mysteries and o "This was not the simple piety and gentle human love of the Paraclete. There was something almost wild in this place, a fierce striving. She recognized in it the burning need of Man to reach, straining, to the heavens, just once, to touch the mind of God. The passion of it frightened her even as it lured." Catherine LeVendeur is an anomaly for her time, in 1130s France: a young woman with an 'uncommon' intelligence, bound for holy orders but with an appetite for life's adventures, mysteries and oddities that may take her out of the realm of the convent. I enter into this reading experience with a certain amount of gentle disposition towards anachronism and speculative enactments of a long-gone history (as all historical records, including the most 'factual', have always depended on speculation), and am therefore not bothered or perturbed that Catherine's behaviour, in particular, 'is not like a woman from 1130s France' would behave, think, or feel. It actually seems to be one of the central concerns of the novel -- and what I imagine the series will explore, as well -- to think about, and represent, a woman outside of her time, as much as she is a direct product of it. How Catherine levies her indoctrinations towards obedience, religious submission, and good daughterliness, against her irrepressible intellectual curiosity, her philosophical and physical rambling forays, is -- I suspect -- the meat on the bones of the books, beginning with this one. Reading experiences and cultures of religious ecstasy -- of a life enshrined to God that is relative to absolute passion -- has always been compelling to me. It's part of why I will stick with this series, part of the "fierce striving" this first book reaches for, and sometimes, with beautiful clarity, attains.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Freyja Vanadis

    What a ridiculously awful book, and not even in the "so bad it's good" way. I first heard about this author on a podcast I listen to about the middle ages, where the host interviewed her. She seemed knowledgeable about the middle ages, so I looked her up. I decided to read the first book in her series, instead of the most recent one, just because I prefer to start at the beginning. I had misgivings about it, because what are the chances that an 18 year old girl can be written seriously as a crim What a ridiculously awful book, and not even in the "so bad it's good" way. I first heard about this author on a podcast I listen to about the middle ages, where the host interviewed her. She seemed knowledgeable about the middle ages, so I looked her up. I decided to read the first book in her series, instead of the most recent one, just because I prefer to start at the beginning. I had misgivings about it, because what are the chances that an 18 year old girl can be written seriously as a crime-fighting novice nun? Well, it turns out the chances are a big fat ZERO. No girl from the 1100s would do the things she does or talk the way she does. Her character is written as a modern girl (modern in 1993, that is), and all the other characters are written as modern as well. None of it rings even slightly plausible. Also, her constant clumsiness, tripping and falling over everything including her own two feet, was just irritating rather than charming as I'm sure the author intended. At least I bought this book used instead of brand new, so I only wasted a couple bucks.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jack Heath

    Synopsis: Catherine is a young scholar at the Convent of the Paraclete in 12th century France where a famous manuscript has disappeared.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    A well-written read, though I am undecided on whether I will continue on in this series. There are two ways Catherine’s story could unfold, and it will depend on which one Newman choses.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Aneca

    A medievalist breathes life and vigour into the scholastic debates and religious controversies of 12th-century France in this entrancing mystery debut. Catherine LeVendeur, a young novice and scholar at the Convent of the Paraclete, is sent by the Abbess Heloise on a perilous mission to find out who is trying to destroy the reputation of the convent and, through it, that of the abbess's onetime lover and patron, theologian Peter Abelard. A Psalter created at the convent and given as a gift to th A medievalist breathes life and vigour into the scholastic debates and religious controversies of 12th-century France in this entrancing mystery debut. Catherine LeVendeur, a young novice and scholar at the Convent of the Paraclete, is sent by the Abbess Heloise on a perilous mission to find out who is trying to destroy the reputation of the convent and, through it, that of the abbess's onetime lover and patron, theologian Peter Abelard. A Psalter created at the convent and given as a gift to the powerful abbot Suger of Saint-Denis is later rumoured to contain heretical statements in its accompanying commentaries. Catherine, in the role of a disgraced novice, must find the book and copy the disputed passages to determine if they are forgeries. Further complicating her search, Saint-Denis's master stonemason, Garnulf, is murdered, a crime which may be tied to the sinister hermit Aleran and the rebuilding of the splendid Abbey of Saint-Denis. Re-entering worldly life, the young novice must face both her sometimes disapproving family and her attraction to Garnulf's mysterious apprentice, Edgar. There were several things attractive to me in this book, it’s a medieval, it’s a mystery and it features Abelard and Heloise as secondary characters. I was looking forward to see how Newman would develop the story and I wasn’t disappointed. Catherine Levendeur is a young novice at the Convent of the Paraclete, she isn’t as humble and well behaved as she could be but she believes she has a true vocation as the convent is the only place where she can pursue her studies. The convent seems to be under attack though and the Abbess Heloise asks Catherine to go back home to investigate who is trying to close them down. We get a glimpse of her life in the convent and, after she goes home, of the everyday life in the middle ages, the relationship with god and the divine... Newman doesn’t shy away from showing the good and bad parts of medieval living, not to mention the prejudices against women and other religions. In her quest to discover who falsified a Psalter from the convent Catherine has the help of Edgar, a young man who worked in the construction of the new abbey and has a few secrets to hide. Her relationship with him is interesting and full of tension; both seem a bit unaware at first of what is going on with them. It’s obvious that Newman has a strong medieval background and can make the story and the characters come alive like no one. While a woman of her time Catherine knows the choices she can make and doesn’t hesitate to change the course of her life and go in search of her happiness even against her family’s wishes. Abelard and Heloise are not a big part of the story but what we get was enough for me to be interested and the setting of medieval France sounded like a breath of fresh air after so many books set in England (not that those are bad of course). Now I’m very interested in knowing what more life has in store for Catherine. Grade: 4.5/5

  16. 4 out of 5

    LJ

    DEATH COMES AS AN EPIPHANY - Okay Newman, Sharan - 1st in Catherine LeVendeur series Catherine LeVendeur, a young novice and scholar at the Convent of the Paraclete, is sent by the Abbess Heloise on a perilous mission to find out who is trying to destroy the reputation of the convent and, through it, that of the abbess's onetime lover and patron, theologian Peter Abelard. A psalter created at the convent and given as a gift to the powerful abbot Suger of Saint-Denis is later rumored to contain her DEATH COMES AS AN EPIPHANY - Okay Newman, Sharan - 1st in Catherine LeVendeur series Catherine LeVendeur, a young novice and scholar at the Convent of the Paraclete, is sent by the Abbess Heloise on a perilous mission to find out who is trying to destroy the reputation of the convent and, through it, that of the abbess's onetime lover and patron, theologian Peter Abelard. A psalter created at the convent and given as a gift to the powerful abbot Suger of Saint-Denis is later rumored to contain heretical statements in its accompanying commentaries. Catherine, in the role of a disgraced novice, must find the book and copy the disputed passages to determine if they are forgeries. Further complicating her search, Saint-Denis's master stonemason, Garnulf, is murdered, a crime which may be tied to the sinister hermit Aleran and the rebuilding of the splendid Abbey of Saint-Denis. Re-entering worldly life, the young novice must face both her sometimes disapproving family and her attraction to Garnulf's mysterious apprentice, Edgar. I don't know why i didn't care for this. Since I read it in 1995, it may be that I wasn't reading historical mysteries. I may have to try it again, one of these days.

  17. 5 out of 5

    April

    I thought I would end up enjoying this book since the beginning of it was so strong. The characters seemed interesting and the portrayals of medieval life appeared well researched. I was looking forward to a nice medieval mystery novel. But somewhere in the middle of the book, the mystery and logic got lost. Or maybe I just got turned off by the over-sexed Satanist that appeared mid-way that solicited Catherine (I literally cracked up laughing at that part and I'm sure the author had not meant f I thought I would end up enjoying this book since the beginning of it was so strong. The characters seemed interesting and the portrayals of medieval life appeared well researched. I was looking forward to a nice medieval mystery novel. But somewhere in the middle of the book, the mystery and logic got lost. Or maybe I just got turned off by the over-sexed Satanist that appeared mid-way that solicited Catherine (I literally cracked up laughing at that part and I'm sure the author had not meant for it to be funny - but it was just too weird!). The last few chapters were extremely disappointing and they only led up to a very strange "resolution." Not sure if the author was going for an amazing twist at the end but it didn't really work. Nor did I quite believe the relationship that sprung up between the Anglo/Saxon mason/student fellow and Catherine either. This story just didn't hold up to my expectations. A friend had given me books #2 and #3 in the series but I might simply end up skimming them and passing them along to Goodwill.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    This is book one in a historical mystery series set in 12th century France. The main character is Catherine LeVendeur, daughter to a wealthy merchant and novice at the Convent of the Paraclete. When the abbess requests that she return home in disgrace in order to determine who is trying to discredit their convert, Catherine agrees. Through murder and madness, love and narrow escapes, Catherine resolves to solve the mysteries she has encountered and she does it with humour, determination and lots This is book one in a historical mystery series set in 12th century France. The main character is Catherine LeVendeur, daughter to a wealthy merchant and novice at the Convent of the Paraclete. When the abbess requests that she return home in disgrace in order to determine who is trying to discredit their convert, Catherine agrees. Through murder and madness, love and narrow escapes, Catherine resolves to solve the mysteries she has encountered and she does it with humour, determination and lots of help. It was well written and well thought out, with a clever and stubborn heroine. I haven’t enjoyed a mystery book so much in years.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I read this years ago and remember really enjoying it...there was also a romance, which just added to its appeal :) Very firmly entrenched in the medieval period, yet still accessible to all contemporary readers.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I love the clumsy, intelligent, realistic Catherine. She's so much fun to read because she's not perfect. I love the clumsy, intelligent, realistic Catherine. She's so much fun to read because she's not perfect.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karen Harrison

    One of the best historical fiction mysteries I've ever read!! One of the best historical fiction mysteries I've ever read!!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michael Austin

    A solid, well-plotted, and mystery with interesting characters and lucid prose. And with Héloïse and Abelard thrown in to make it all really compelling.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joanie

    Preemptive tl;dr: I recommend the Catherine LeVendeur mysteries for excellent medieval settings, strong character development and likable, engaging characters, and compelling writing of marginalized people, which can be hard to find. I started this series with the seventh book, then the third, and then the first. I think the seventh book might have benefitted from having some previous context, but the first book certainly benefits by having read later books first. Knowing who Catherine is as an a Preemptive tl;dr: I recommend the Catherine LeVendeur mysteries for excellent medieval settings, strong character development and likable, engaging characters, and compelling writing of marginalized people, which can be hard to find. I started this series with the seventh book, then the third, and then the first. I think the seventh book might have benefitted from having some previous context, but the first book certainly benefits by having read later books first. Knowing who Catherine is as an adult makes it very charming to meet her as a naïve eighteen-year-old, newly returned to the outside world from within a convent. I can see where, starting from the first book, her innocence, self-doubt and clumsiness would make her a tiring protagonist. There's really very little need to read in order, though, so just start with a later book and revisit young Catherine later. I really only write reviews if other people's reviews annoy me, so here are the main complaints I saw: (1) It's poorly plotted and (2) No woman at the time could do these things. I actually can't speak to (1) because I just got into mystery very recently and I have very little to compare to (I read some other medieval mysteries last summer and that's it). I will say that one if the major draws for me in Newman's work is that, as a medievalist, her understanding of the medieval world is very rich, and she really brings medieval France to life in a way that the other medieval novels I've read don't. The other major draw for me is her treatment of marginalized people in the setting. Catherine is an exceptional woman with exceptional privilege for the time, but the other women around her life with the expected constraints and that reality is something that Catherine runs up against often. In addition, [MINOR SPOILER] she discovers late in the novel that her father was born to a Jewish family and converted after the murder of his mother and sisters, and she has a Jewish aunt, uncle and cousin she was unaware of. [SPOILER ENDED.] In each novel I've read, conflicts between Jews and Christians sit close to the heart of the story. Which brings me to (2) "No woman could do these things." So first, yes, you have to suspend some disbelief to read a novel about one woman in 12th century France solving ten murders. Just like how the towns in Father Brown and Murder, She Wrote would be insanely dangerous places to live based on the murder rates. There's an element of fiction to fiction. The idea of an exceptional woman carving a place for herself is not the fiction. Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, and Joan of Arc all managed to do exceptional things in a time of male dominance. Historical women were not as weak as we think they were. Historical women were not weaker or stupider than modern women. Catherine is ahead of her time, but there are always real people ahead of their times or we wouldn't get to these times. I like books that treat oppressed people with respect. Catherine is not a likely woman, but if Margery Kempe could get her husband to agree to abstinence (she did) then there's no reason to believe it's impossible for Catherine LeVendeur to get her father to let her read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    ReadingThroughtheLists

    There are interesting elements here, but ultimately this book fell flat for me. On the positive side, Newman does write a convincing medieval France; she neither romanticizes her setting (the scene of Catherine falling in among some desperate peasants was especially sharp) nor writes from the “medieval Europe was a nightmarish, dirty hellscape” view. The details are good, but the main characters and story do not work for me. (Also, justice for Adulf, please.) Catherine is not a convincing main ch There are interesting elements here, but ultimately this book fell flat for me. On the positive side, Newman does write a convincing medieval France; she neither romanticizes her setting (the scene of Catherine falling in among some desperate peasants was especially sharp) nor writes from the “medieval Europe was a nightmarish, dirty hellscape” view. The details are good, but the main characters and story do not work for me. (Also, justice for Adulf, please.) Catherine is not a convincing main character. We are told she is a brilliant thinker but this is never shown in any meaningful way. She has no personality apart from being a Smart Girl, and there is a lot of tiresome internal dialogue involving her unconvincing romance with Edgar. For a future nun, she has very little interest in religion, or in anything besides what the plot needs her focus on. What are Abelard and Heloise doing here? They contribute nothing to the story, and the supposed “let’s defame Abelard plot” goes nowhere. The sudden point-of-view shifts were jarring and contributed nothing, and most of the time I couldn’t keep track of what the mystery even was. Perhaps the real mystery was how I managed to stay awake…. Maybe I’ll give one of the later books a try. 2.5 stars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vainvt

    Loved the connection between Heloise and Abelard, the historical accuracy, the quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and the very realistic way people lived at the time. People live in twig huts, get soaked to the bone while walking in the rain or snow, worry about dying from a bad cough, and turn in desperation to their religion in times of crisis. Interesting studies of being a knight and being a Jew. Basically, knights were thugs who roamed the streets of Paris and persecuted citizens who Loved the connection between Heloise and Abelard, the historical accuracy, the quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and the very realistic way people lived at the time. People live in twig huts, get soaked to the bone while walking in the rain or snow, worry about dying from a bad cough, and turn in desperation to their religion in times of crisis. Interesting studies of being a knight and being a Jew. Basically, knights were thugs who roamed the streets of Paris and persecuted citizens who were unable to defend themselves. Jews were segregated and persecuted. If you could leave your Jewish heritage behind, it was a great benefit to you as an individual and businessman. The setting is excellent, the story is hard to believe. Catherine is too brash, too intelligent, and too independent for this environment. She roams around solving crimes, while her sister and other females are trapped and contained in their castles. Hard to understand how this could possibly have happened.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Reminiscent of the Cadfael stories by Ellis Peters (A Morbid Taste for Bones), this series immerses the reader in 1100s Europe. The protagonist starts out in a convent but travels as an assignment and in later books because of her father's wealth and position as an influential trader. The mysteries are good and the historical setting is rich. Because of Catherine's unique position, the reader gets insights into both Christian and Jewish lives in 1100s France. Later stories include other parts of Reminiscent of the Cadfael stories by Ellis Peters (A Morbid Taste for Bones), this series immerses the reader in 1100s Europe. The protagonist starts out in a convent but travels as an assignment and in later books because of her father's wealth and position as an influential trader. The mysteries are good and the historical setting is rich. Because of Catherine's unique position, the reader gets insights into both Christian and Jewish lives in 1100s France. Later stories include other parts of Europe and each story introduces its own set of interesting characters from many different walks of life, from poor artisans to wealthy nobility and clergy. This series is a little more adult than Peters' Cadfael mysteries, especially in the way of male-female relationships, but recommended for the adult interested in this historical period.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    Well, this is an entertaining book, probably ideal to read while you're in lockdown, can't leave your home, and your brain doesn't feel like taking up something too serious. This is a perfectly light historical novel and nicely written. Did I guess most of the plot quite early in the novel? Yes. Did I enjoy reading anyway? You bet! Of course, you have to engage in a bit of suspension of disbelief because even the premise seems a bit far-fetched, but once this is done it's basically an easy and f Well, this is an entertaining book, probably ideal to read while you're in lockdown, can't leave your home, and your brain doesn't feel like taking up something too serious. This is a perfectly light historical novel and nicely written. Did I guess most of the plot quite early in the novel? Yes. Did I enjoy reading anyway? You bet! Of course, you have to engage in a bit of suspension of disbelief because even the premise seems a bit far-fetched, but once this is done it's basically an easy and fun ride through the rest of the book. In any case, I don't discard reaching out for The Devil's Door whenever I need some good old escapism. (view spoiler)[Except, in the end, the whole thing of Roger becoming possessed by the devil and what not was borderline ridiculous. (hide spoiler)]

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bryn (Plus Others)

    This is maybe a little closer to 2 stars than to 3, but I did enjoy some parts of it a lot -- Newman is a medievalist and that comes through well in her setting details, without overtaking the flow of the book. I did find Catherine a frustrating protagonist at a couple of points, there were things that seemed quite clear to me as a reader that she took forever to figure out, and some parts of the book slogged as a result. I am curious to see how the next one is; if it slogs also I will probably This is maybe a little closer to 2 stars than to 3, but I did enjoy some parts of it a lot -- Newman is a medievalist and that comes through well in her setting details, without overtaking the flow of the book. I did find Catherine a frustrating protagonist at a couple of points, there were things that seemed quite clear to me as a reader that she took forever to figure out, and some parts of the book slogged as a result. I am curious to see how the next one is; if it slogs also I will probably give them up (rather than my former habit of reading three or four books in a series even though I am not enjoying it on the off chance they will get better), but I feel like Newman has all the pieces to make enjoyable historical mysteries, she just had not quite gotten them assembled in this one.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mary Jensen

    It was fun to read about Ile de la Cite, the oldest part of Paris, with the newer church being built at Saint Denis. I enjoyed the detail about the belled pigs in the street, the church hierarchy and the historical references the the Juiverie (Jewish quarter). The actual story was a little boiler plate. Young woman about to take her holy orders, charged with secret task on behalf of Heloise (head nun of Paraclete), involved Abelard (who previously had a love affair with Heloise) as he was going It was fun to read about Ile de la Cite, the oldest part of Paris, with the newer church being built at Saint Denis. I enjoyed the detail about the belled pigs in the street, the church hierarchy and the historical references the the Juiverie (Jewish quarter). The actual story was a little boiler plate. Young woman about to take her holy orders, charged with secret task on behalf of Heloise (head nun of Paraclete), involved Abelard (who previously had a love affair with Heloise) as he was going to be charged with heresy due to an altered version of a psalter. Enter Edgar, Saxon agent of Abelard. Much to her dismay, Catherine falls in love with Edgar. The bad guys are discovered and fall into disrepute or die. The two young lovers plan to wrap up their respective affairs and live happily ever after.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vintagebooklvr

    Very good story that depicts the medieval mindset as well as the mundane details of life. There is no romanticizing life in a castle: it stunk and it was a hard life for many. Many died of what today we think of trivial cuts and no family was left untouched by the death of the young. It also manages to weave in one of the greatest love stories of all time (many years after they were involved). The mystery itself was a bit slow to develop. Also, Catherine didn't get to use that much of her vaunted Very good story that depicts the medieval mindset as well as the mundane details of life. There is no romanticizing life in a castle: it stunk and it was a hard life for many. Many died of what today we think of trivial cuts and no family was left untouched by the death of the young. It also manages to weave in one of the greatest love stories of all time (many years after they were involved). The mystery itself was a bit slow to develop. Also, Catherine didn't get to use that much of her vaunted logic skills. There could have been more clues to indicate the culprit(s?). She more stumbled on to the person than figured out who it was. Good start of a series.

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