The book: Death and the Devil, by Frank Schaetzing
The edition: Italian translation by Emanuela Cervini, as published by TEA (paperback edition), 461 pages
The story: Jacop the Fox, a young man living by his wits, is perched on a tree stealing apples, when he sees the architect of the Cologne cathedral falling from the unfinished building’s roof, pushed by a black-clad figure. Scared, he still approaches the dying architect and hears his last words — enough to make him the next target of the killer. Not sure whether he’s chased by a mortal man or by the devil himself, Jacop will face days in which everyone he speaks to ends up a target for the killer’s fury.
My experience with this book & my thoughts: I approached this book with high expectations. Centered about the building of a cathedral, I expected it to be on the lines of The Pillars of the Earth and The Cathedral of the Sea, both of which I liked a lot (Falcones’ more than Follett’s, but still). I was completely wrong because, unlike those two which span several decades, the story of this book evolves in just a few days. Because of that, it is much more similar to The Name of the Rose (another book I love), both in the mysterious deaths of the storyline, and in the psychological setting it tries to create. Schaetzing tries to convey the idea of a world where people would truly be afraid of meeting the devil on any given night… unfortunately, while you see what he is trying to do, he doesn’t succeed in creating the fearful atmosphere that one can breathe in The Name of the Rose. At times, Jacop seems to be enlightened and to know that all the talks of devils and angels in everyday life are but legends, so his fear didn’t make sense to me. This is the book’s major flaw, because not knowing first-hand the fear characters are supposed to feel, I didn’t really feel for them. Apart from that, it was still a gripping novel and a quick, passionating read.
What I liked: the quick-paced story and its several likeable characters.
What I didn’t like: knowing the culprit almost from the start. Also, historical explanations interrupting the storyline time and again (or the characters stopping in the middle of a fearful chase to explain political and historical facts to each other).
Language & translation: I liked Schaetzing’s writing style (in the rendering by a different translator) in the first book by him I read, years ago — simple language that flows seamlessly. In this case, it’s just as readable, but I missed all the medieval words he could have used to create a setting: there were very few of them.
Read this if: if you like historical novels set in the Middle Ages; if you liked The Pillars of the Earth, The Cathedral of the Sea and The Name of the Rose, you want to remain in the same setting and don’t mind a lighter book.
Counts as: What’s in a Name Challenge – Evil