3 out of 4 stars
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The term 'serial killer' is relatively modern, but the concept it connotes has probably existed for centuries. Heinrich Institoris, a priest in medieval Europe, fits perfectly into this description, considering the unbelievable atrocities he committed in God's name. Under the guise of witch-hunting, he tortured and murdered thousands of women and children. The Pope's Butcher by Joseph C. Gioconda, although largely fictional, is much more than the atrocities of Institoris. It gives flesh to the victims of one of the most heinous crimes seemingly enabled by the church. Caught in the so-called religious justice crossfires is Sebastian. With a past shrouded in mystery, he journeys to the end of the earth in search of the truth, but what he finds shakes the foundation of his beliefs and will come to threaten the woman he loves. Will he save her on time, or will he be consumed by the orchestrated tides sweeping through Europe?
There is a disclaimer at the beginning of this book as to the nature of the content therein. I would, however, not describe the events as gruesome. Yes, there were scenes of bloodshed and senseless deaths. Nonetheless, the feel of this book is the ridiculosity of fictitious stories contrived by Institoris and greedy accusers in their bid to brand their enemies as witches. One begins to wonder at the human psyche, and the lengths humans will go because of fear and envy. Perhaps for Institoris, it was a case of mental illness masquerading as a just cause. Of course, voices arose to oppose the senseless murder of women and children. However, as history shows, it is not enough to have goodwill; power in the wrong hands portends disaster for all.
The fact that The Pope's Butcher is based on real-life events is heart-wrenching; it almost sounds like fiction. The author, however, did a great job in merging facts and fiction. Hence, he produces a readable work on the subject. It is readable in the sense that it hits the nail on the head without being too gory. Embedded in the narrative are human stories that give credence to ancient religious practices. We get to see the general lifestyle of medieval Europe — the consequences of religious fanaticism, maritime culture, hospitality, and gullibility. Readers are encouraged to visit sites mentioned in the book, and recommendations are given for readers interested in knowing more.
Each of the 45 chapters is well demarcated and titled appropriately. There is also a glossary at the end of the book for terms readers might not understand. Overall, the narrative style of this book is easy to follow, and sometimes, a unique linguistic flair is taken into consideration, such as in the case of Finan (one of the book's characters).
The only negative thing I will say about this book is that the errors are numerous. It is more worrying seeing errors in character names. This book will need to be re-edited if it hopes to get a perfect rating. In my opinion, the book's editing sabotages its content.
I will recommend this book to readers who have a keen interest in the witch-hunting that prevailed in medieval Europe. Although this book isn't exhaustive on this topic, it gives a good insight with a human touch. Finally, I will rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. It is an eye-opener for readers who have hitherto never heard of Heinrich Institoris. Hopefully, this book will help in understanding his depravity and the prevention of future occurrences.
The Pope's Butcher
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