Harper’s Quine: a review

harper's quineby Pat McIntosh

I picked this one up at a recent public library trip after a recommendation from Deb. I was hoping for a satisfying mystery with interesting characters and a clearly drawn setting. I definitely found all of that here.

Gil Cunningham, a young man struggling with his desire to do right by his family and his knowledge that he is not fitted for the priesthood, discovers a dead body. Because the body is on the grounds of Glasgow Cathedral, of which his uncle is a Canon, he is given the task of finding the dead woman’s killer.

I’m sure that this book has been compared to Ellis Peter’s Cadfael series. Oddly enough, I was more charmed by Gil’s story than Cadfael’s. I especially liked the sense that Gil’s faith was very real to him–I felt that he took it seriously and that McIntosh took his taking it seriously, seriously. While I know the medieval church had its problems, there were some simple devout people. I very much enjoyed the fact that we were given a chance to see one of them.

I do have some lingering questions, mostly about the character of Alys. While I know from my classes that there were extremely intelligent and well educated women in the middle ages, such as Christine de Pizan, or even Heloise, I wasn’t clear on how Alys had gained her knowledge. I believe that masons like her father were highly respected and wealthy men, but he didn’t seem particularly educated (intelligent, yes, but that’s not the same thing). Maybe McIntosh explains it a bit more in later books, but as it was I remained a bit puzzled.

I suppose I kept comparing this to Ellis Peters as I was reading, partly because of the medieval connection and partly because they’re both mysteries and so on. While I thought McIntosh did a marvellous job of setting the scene–conveying a sense of the society and time period, I did miss the sense of place that is so intense in Peters.

Final verdict? I’ll definitely be continuing with the series as I found this one both enjoyable and well-done.

Book source: public library


Filed under bookish posts, reviews

6 responses to “Harper’s Quine: a review

  1. sigh. someday maybe I will get to read this! sounds great!! hope you are doing well! big transition, graduating…

    • Maureen E

      Are you still busy with school and such?

      Yes, it is a big transition! Some days I do well, other days not so much. Prayers are much appreciated.

  2. Great–thank you for this suggestion. I’ve been seeking out interesting books lately, and I’ve always liked the Cadfael series.

  3. Theo

    Better late than never? I came across your review when I was looking up the definition of quine. I just finished reading “The Harper’s Quine”. I enjoyed your review, but I don’t think you did Cadfael justice. If I remember correctly, Cadfael was nearly twice Gil’s age when he became a monk. He’d fought extensively in the Crusades and as a mercenary/sailor and traveled much more widely than Gil. Consequently, regarding his faith, Cadfael was more concerned with the spirit of the faith than the letter – and willing to bend the rules in the interest of the former. Likewise for Gil, but I found Cadfael’s faith more appealing. As for Alys’s education, she was enamored of books as McIntosh explained, which her father no doubt supplied. (Although, as you point out, McIntosh doesn’t go into much more detail than that.)

    Aside from these quibbles, like you, I enjoyed the book. Also, like you I think, I thought that McIntosh did more research into and was more historically accurate about the details of everyday life at that time; e.g., where do the women in the marketplace go to the bathroom.

    • Maureen E

      Hi Theo–thanks for the comment! It’s quite possible that I’m not doing justice to Cadfael. I read several of the books while ago (before I read McIntosh at all) and was never caught by them somehow. I do love Ellis Peter’s Inspector Felse series, so I think it has to be something about Cadfael’s character that puts me off for some reason. Obviously, this is an incredibly subjective reaction.

      I do remain a bit puzzled about Alys’s education, though I suppose that her father, being a loving parent, might have provided her with teachers. I just wish that McIntosh had addressed that a little more clearly. If she had, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

      Overall, I just really enjoy the flavor of these books and the world that McIntosh evokes.

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