Customer Reviews: Death and the Devil: A Novel
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on October 2, 2007
Murders and mayhem in Medieval Germany. Seeking power, political advantage or revenge, a group of wealthy patricians form an alliance to reinstate them or their families to a previous status. Their plan requires an assassin - an assassin that seems more shadow than form, more devil than man.

A man falls from a cathedral under construction. It's dark, it's late but there is a witness where no witness should be. The witness warily goes to the dying man and hears his last words-then runs for his life. He is now a new target for the assassin.

Jacob the Fox, named for his blazing red hair, is fast and quick-witted but is too easily identified by his hair. He lives by stealing and scrounging what he can to eat, and lives under the arch of the great wall that surrounds Cologne, Germany in 1260. He knows when and where to hide from irate merchants but this new threat appears to function outside mortal capabilities.

Finally, injured and hurt, and against his better judgment, he seeks help from Richmodis, a cloth dyer's daughter who had been kind to him earlier. When Jacob tells his story to Richmodis, her father and her uncle, a physician and a professor of cannon law, become unlikely allies in the dangerous task of discovering why Urquhart, the assassin, has come to Cologne, who has brought him here and who is the ultimate target. The people behind Urquhart are powerful, ruthless and willing to sacrifice lives to achieve their goal and Cologne becomes their hunting ground.

This is an engrossing mystery and suspense story that weaves in the political and philosophical thinking of the period along with a portrait of the time. Author Schatzing gives historical background that adds atmosphere and weight to the plot and gives it credibility.

This novel was published in Germany in 2003 and was first for this author who has since won several book awards in his country. Death and the Devil has just been translated into English and readers of this book will be very grateful.

Armchair Interviews says: Amazing first book for this author.
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on October 5, 2007
Having read this book in german and in english I might say the translation into the english version is a poor and very clumsy one. I can only hope this won't keep people away from reading further translations.

But however, reading over this sad choice of wording in the translation (it's not the whole book that suffers from that) helps a lot and makes a fabulous, inspiring and suspenseful mystery. :-)
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VINE VOICEon April 14, 2008
With high hopes of this so-called "Historical Thriller", I had envisioned something as fantastic as Frederic Lenoir's Angel's Promise. This book was far from thrilling, in fact so boring I quit half way. One specific gripe I have is that the translator was not that adept, many grammatical errors, quite a few typos, and of the worst offense, the contemporary slang dialog using words and phrases that simply did not exist in this time period. I don't believe they used the term "Every Tom Dick and Harry" in the year 1200. Besides the translation and the out of period dialogue, the story starts out exciting but very, very quickly peters out into a real dull, uninspiring yarn. What is initially interesting and what seemed was going to be a fast pace cat and mouse chase, quickly slows down to a dull roar not even half way through, and the reader is bored with digressing topics of past history and the dreaded views of religion of the time. A little of this to enhance the picture of the times could have gone a long way, a lot of it made me close the book. In addition, character development was non-existent, I felt the leading players flat. They did not in any way invoke my curiosity, compassion or interest. The idea of the story was a good one, but unfortunately the author could not carry it of with polish or great achievement.
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on May 4, 2012
"In the year 1260...the most ambitious...building in all of Christendom is rising above the city of Cologne. Far below the soaring spires and flying buttresses, a bitter struggle is underway between the archbishop of Cologne and the ruling merchant families to control the enormous wealth of this prosperous commercial center-a struggle that quickly becomes deadly."

Death and the Devil begins when the protagonist, street-smart vagabond Jacob the Fox, accidentally witnesses Morart being pushed to his death from the great Cologne Cathedral, which he was commissioned to design . Jacob quickly becomes the target of the cold, calculating assassin who was hired to kill Morart in order to keep the murder a secret. As one can imagine, Jacob spends a great deal of the book on the run while trying to find out who seeks him out and why.

Death and the Devil is a historically-accurate political thriller. Schatzing manages to keep the reader turning pages from the start while also painting medieval Cologne vividly. Schatzing also develops characters who are perfectly flawed. Jacob is a thief, the Uncle is a drunk, and Jacob's first love-interest is a prostitute. Even the assassin, despite his callousness, had moments in which I felt sympathy for him. This was one great read among many that I hope Schatzing plans to write in the historical thriller genre. 4 Stars

Written by Andrea Cefalo, Author of The Fairytale Keeper series
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on June 18, 2012
This book was timely for me. I'll be in Cologne in August with my 16 year-old granddaughter. I also bought her a copy. I loved the detail of the city, especially the Haymarket, the city wall, and the cathedral. If anything, the book might have been a bit heavy on the philosophy for some people. The author did an excellent job of weaving in not only contemporaneous history, but also details from earlier periods that helped the reader to understand the how and why of the current issues in the city. It helps to remember that in the 13th C. most of Europe was Roman Catholic and the church was more powerful than most citizen governments.
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on September 1, 2007
An interesting and intriguing historical fiction murder mystery, somewhat akin to Caleb Carr's Angel of Death, or The Alienist, albeit from an earlier era.

Under the shadow of a politicized Christendom, headed by power-hungry clergy, and in the throes of the dark aftermath of the bloody crusades, patricians (wealthy aristocratic families) vie with powerful guilds to control commerce and exploit the impoverished, in the bustling medieval city of Cologne. Against this background, a series of cold-blooded murders-for-hire begins piling up evidence of a powerful conspiracy. But a conspiracy of whom, and to what end?

The body count grows, spanning the classes from peasant to monk, from servant to aristocrat. What ties these seemingly disparate deaths together, and what is it all leading to? Young street-wise, good-hearted thief Jacob "the Fox" and his newly acquired benefactors (the curvaceous maiden Richmodis, her worldy-wise uncle Jaspar, and her simpleton father Goddart) must find out, and soon, before they too are added to list of hapless victims. For while what they don't know could mean their demise, several violent attempts on their lives indicate they most certainly already know far too much.

Can they unravel the mystery of the power behind the frighteningly invincible hired killer in time to save themselves?

The book has a few "rough spots", probably due as much to the translator as the author, but overall is an absorbing and enthralling tale of hypocrisy, high treason, conspiracy and treachery in an era of knights and dark dungeons, fair maidens and friars.
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on November 4, 2012
Every now and then, it is nice to come across a book that exceeds your expectations - just as this one has. My first kindle reading experience has turned out to be a very good one!

Schätzing clearly has well-researched the history and background of 13th century Cologne to create an imaginative, fast-paced and compelling story with plenty of action and intrigue. Well worth a point if you were considering this book.
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on August 11, 2008
The setting is very atmospheric -- medieval Cologne and the construction of the famous Gothic Cathedral is a fascinating backdrop to a fast paced historical crime novel.

The plot concerns the mysterious death of the orginal architect of the Cologne Cathedral, Gerhard Morart. Morart's death by murder is witnessed by an enterprising thief and roustabout named Jacob the Fox.

The plot is best when focusing on the conflicts and shifting alliances between merchants, church and aristocracy. Cologne was hardly unique in this regard - archbishops, kings and guilds fought it out throughout medieval Europe, but the Rhenish intrigue, mendacity and backstabbing is particularly astounding.

The characters were cartoonish and predictable. I think the author, Frank Schatzing, deliberately modeled the two main protagonists, Jacob and Jaspar, after the two well known Cologne "ne-er do wells," Tünnes and Schäl. The Jacob character even shares a physical resemblance with Tünnes (short, squat, carrot top). Like those well known Cologne comedians, the vaudevillian banter between Jacob and Jaspar (and Jaspar's sidekick, Goddert) is overlong and tiresome.

I could not read about Morart's assasin, Urquhart, without thinking of the blond albino monk from The DaVinci Code. And like The Davinci Code, this book involves one clue after another being miraculously solved based on improbable hunches.

The finale is unsurprising and a letdown. From the very beginning, we know who is bankrolling Morart's murder, and there is no surprising twist at the end to provide a more interesting angle to their motives.

All in all, I would recommend you read it you are interested in early Medieval Europe. Schatzing clearly has done his homework when describing the physical layout, political tensions and everyday sights and sounds of 13th Century Cologne. As a work of crime fiction, however, it leaves a lot to be desired.
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on November 4, 2012
An amazing tale of murder and scheming set in a historical context. Many illuminating facts about life at that time and a story that is difficult to put down. Moves quickly along and leaves you feeling that you know a little more of life in those times.
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on October 29, 2012
This is a fascinating page-turner. I couldn't put it down. Riddled in history with fascinating characters, this novel was really brought to life. Filled with suspense and questions of what will happen next, I highly recommend this book.
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