historical thriller

The Devils of Cardona is superb historical fiction masked as a thriller. It works beautifully on both levels.

A gripping historical thriller

This gripping historical thriller is set in 1594, more than a century after Ferdinand and Isabella set in motion the Spanish Inquisition. Six years earlier, the English had destroyed the Spanish Armada with the aid of a massive storm. But Spain still reigned as the world’s most powerful nation. The Spanish Empire covered all of Central and South America, much of North America and the Caribbean, a wide swath of North Africa, the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Naples, and a chunk of Central Europe. And throughout Spain and the New World territories, the Inquisition competed with civil authorities for supremacy. This is the historical backdrop to Matthew Carr’s engrossing and well-researched new novel.

The Devils of Cardona by Matthew Carr @@@@@ (5 out of 5)

A criminal judge takes on the Spanish Inquisition

A priest is brutally murdered in Belamar de la Sierra, a small town in the eastern province of Aragon. Rumors swirl around the crime about a mysterious Muslim Redeemer who has set out to murder Old Christians. The town is heavily populated by Moriscos — Muslim converts to Christianity — giving credence to the official version that the Redeemer is a local man. (Converted Muslims and Jews were widely thought to continue practicing their old religions in secret.) A close counselor to the king summons a wounded veteran named Bernardo de Mendoza to investigate the crime. Mendoza is a criminal magistrate in Castile, many miles to the west of Aragon. Though he is a womanizer and adulterer, Mendoza is widely known as incorruptible. He sets out quickly with his ward, who serves as a scribe, and several armed companions to faraway Aragon. There he finds himself facing hostility from the provincial Inquisitor and a powerful nobleman.

Local opposition stalls Mendoza’s progress for many weeks. Meanwhile, a series of additional murders and the rape of two nuns terrify the populace. The murders are attributed to the Redeemer; three Moriscos from Belamar de la Sierra are charged with the rape by the Inquisitor. Mendoza is skeptical of the charge and the rumors about the Redeemer, and he is no friend of the Inquisition. As the weeks go by, the situation becomes progressively more tangled, as other forces in contention come to light. Though he finds his life in jeopardy on several occasions, Mendoza stubbornly pursues the truth. As the plot unfolds, conflict among the clashing forces escalates to pitched battle. There are surprises all along the way. The Devils of Cardona is a terrific read.

About the author

Matthew Carr is the author of several widely acclaimed works of nonfiction, including Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain. He is a journalist and broadcaster. Carr lives in England.

For further reading

If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).

You might also be interested in Top 7 great popular novels reviewed on this site.

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.