Mystery and Religious Conflict in 16th Century Spain

The Devils of Cardona, by Matthew Carr, (Riverhead Books), 416 Pages, released 14 June, 2016

Matthew Carr’s The Devils of Cardona is set in 16th Century Spain, a time and land fraught with conflict between the Catholic government and its morisco citizens: Muslims forcibly converted to Catholicism. When a hated priest serving in a morisco community is found murdered in his own church, magistrate Bernardo de Mendoza is ordered to investigate the crime. What follows is tale of shifting suspicions and additional murders. Are these crimes being committed by moriscos? Are they being committed by powerful Catholic landowners hoping for an excuse to drive the moriscos away? Are they about faith or money or power or some combination of these?

While I’m not a historian, I want to say that I found the period detail in this novel very convincing, particularly the portrayal of religious conflict at that time. Mendoza—a humanist, which is unusual for his time—doesn’t just uncover clues to the murders. He also learns a good deal about life in the morisco community: the prejudices they face and the lengths they must go to in order to preserve their religion. Because Mendoza is not firmly committed to either side in this religious conflict, he provides an open-minded perspective that will appeal to present-day readers.

If you enjoy historical mysteries that effectively explore the eras in which they’re set, you’ll want to read The Devils of Cardona. Even if you’re not interested in historical settings, The Devils of Cardona will offer you a complex and satisfying read.

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