The Lady Agnès Mystery Volume 1 by Andrea Japp – #WITMonth

I hadn’t made any plans for taking part in Women in Translation Month, but when I came across this book which had almost disappeared into the black hole of my Kindle, I decided to join in. Andrea Japp is a French crime novelist and this, the first volume of her Lady Agnès Mystery (originally published in 2006), has been translated into English by Lorenza Garcia. Japp herself is also a translator and produced the French translations of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels, which I think makes her a perfect choice for Women in Translation.

There are actually two books included in this volume – The Season of the Beast and The Breath of the Rose – but they do not stand alone and although they can be bought separately, there is not much point in reading one without the other. Together, the two books tell the story of Lady Agnès de Souarcy, a young widow living in 14th century France with her eleven-year-old daughter Mathilde and ten-year-old Clément, a servant’s child whom she has raised as her own son. Left with only a small dowry to live on, Agnès is struggling financially and reliant on the support of her half-brother, Eudes de Larnay. Unfortunately she and Eudes have always had a difficult relationship and when Inquisitors arrive in the area to hunt down heretics, Eudes sees this as the perfect opportunity to rid himself of his troublesome sister.

Agnès may have some powerful enemies but, unknown to her, she also has some powerful friends who are prepared to do everything they can to protect her from the horrors of the Inquisition. But is there any connection with the murders that have been carried out on Agnès’s land – dead bodies which have been discovered with the letter A marked on the ground beside them – and with the poisoning of several nuns at nearby Clairets Abbey? It seems that all of these things must be linked..but how?

The Lady Agnès Mystery is a book with many layers. First, there’s the richness of the historical setting. Set in the Perche region of France in 1304, the story takes places at a time of religious conflict and of power struggles between King Philip IV the Fair, his various advisers and their rivals, and the two religious orders, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller. We meet characters who belong to each of these groups and are given a range of different views and perspectives. It’s exactly the same period of history as I’ve previously read about in Maurice Druon’s Accursed Kings series and I loved revisiting it here. If you’re not familiar with this period, though, it shouldn’t be a problem; everything you need to know to understand the story is clearly explained in the text – and if you do want to know more, there are several appendices at the back of the book which provide definitions, explanations and brief biographies of historical figures.

This is not a dry, heavy read, though. There’s always something happening – a clandestine meeting in a dark tavern, a coded message being deciphered or a hidden room being explored, not to mention the vivid scenes depicting Agnès’s ordeals at the hands of the Inquisitors. My favourite aspect of the book was the mystery surrounding the deaths of the nuns…I particularly enjoyed watching the apothecary nun Sister Annelette using her knowledge of plants and herbs to try to catch the murderer.

So far so good. However, there is another storyline involving the Knights Templar, a secret prophecy and a missing manuscript which didn’t really interest me at all. I thought there was already enough going on with Agnès’s personal story and the murder mystery…and I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it difficult to read this sort of storyline without making comparisons with The Da Vinci Code.

Volume 1 ends, not on a cliffhanger exactly, but with some of the many plot threads still unresolved. I would like to know what happens next to Lady Agnès and her family, and I would love to see more of the nuns of Clairets Abbey, but I have a feeling Volume 2 will be dominated by the prophecy storyline. Will I read it? At the moment I don’t think so, but I could change my mind.

18 thoughts on “The Lady Agnès Mystery Volume 1 by Andrea Japp – #WITMonth

  1. FictionFan says:

    Ha, yes, I fear the Knights Templar will always be associated in my mind with The Da Vinci Code! I also hate when a book ends with threads unresolved as a kind of teaser for a follow-up, so although some aspects of this sound good, I think my TBR is safe… 🙂

  2. April Munday says:

    I’ve blocked the da Vinci Code from my memory, so I’ll happily read something about the Templars. Their real history is much more interesting than anything Dan Brown made up. This book sounds right up my street. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  3. Carmen says:

    All these threads seem interesting to me. Even the Templar Knights’ one, though I know what you mean about so many twists and turns packed into a story; the threads begin to compete for attention, or maybe to see which is the most shocking. Still, I wouldn’t mind reading this one as it touches on religious life, the Inquisition, and a bit of mystery as well. 🙂 Great review, Helen, as always!

    • Helen says:

      I think there was just one thread too many for me. I would have preferred more focus on the murder mystery storyline set in the abbey. It’s still an interesting and fun read, though.

  4. Judy Krueger says:

    What a good find! I don’t have one translated book on my list for August. Must remedy that. But I will make a note of this one for when I get to the sections on this time in history in the Will Durant books. I love his books but it works for me to intersperse novels set in the times I am reading about. Because, we read novels!

    • Helen says:

      I do have some other translated books on my TBR, but most of them are by men – I need to make an effort to look for more women in translation. And I think interspersing your non-fiction reading with relevant novels is a wonderful idea!

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