It’s 1666 and the plague is visiting the Derbyshire village of Eyam for the second successive year. The new, young vicar, Will Mompesson, makes the courageous decision to quarantine the village, which does not make him popular with some of his parishioners. To add to the terror, the innkeeper is murdered by a demon. The old vicar persuades the villagers that these evils are a punishment from God. As a result, they find a scapegoat in the person of the Jewish baker and hang him. Mompesson is the only one to protest. The murders mount up and it seems the victims are chosen when they break one of the commandments.
This is a lurid and eerie tale. It’s an indictment of God’s role in mankind’s suffering and man’s need to find reasons for his suffering. The vicar is a pious yet practical man who does his best to assure the villagers that what is happening is not because of their sins. Yet with so much evil in the village, the death of his wife is too much for him to bear and he suffers a crisis of faith, which makes him ripe for…. Well, I can’t say.
What I can say, is that although this is a fictional story, William Mompesson is a historical figure who, by insisting on closing the village, probably saved countless lives. The reader should not neglect to read the quote from him at the end of the book for an extra shiver.
There were a few typos/errors but nothing to spoil the story. Another Mompesson mystery is in the works.
I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys dark mysteries and doesn’t have a queasy stomach.
© Susan Appleyard
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