Death and the Devil: A Novel

( 14 )

Overview

In the year 1260, a great cathedral, the most ambitious ecclesiastical building in all of Christendom, is rising high above the bustling city of Cologne under the supervision of the architect Gerhard Morart. Far below the soaring spires and flying buttresses, a bitter war rages between the archbishop and the city's ruling merchant families—a deadly conflict that claims Morart as the first of its many victims. But there is a witness to the murder of the unfortunate architect, pushed to his death from the ...

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Overview

In the year 1260, a great cathedral, the most ambitious ecclesiastical building in all of Christendom, is rising high above the bustling city of Cologne under the supervision of the architect Gerhard Morart. Far below the soaring spires and flying buttresses, a bitter war rages between the archbishop and the city's ruling merchant families—a deadly conflict that claims Morart as the first of its many victims. But there is a witness to the murder of the unfortunate architect, pushed to his death from the cathedral's scaffolding. A cunning, street-smart, politically naive petty thief called "Jacob the Fox" has seen it all—and seeing has made him the target of a relentless and ruthlessly efficient assassin who's been stripped of his humanity by dark, hidden secrets. Ensnared in the strangling vines of a terrifying conspiracy, the Fox must now run for his life. But who—and what—is he running from?

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Editorial Reviews

Compact Magazine
“…author’s fluid writing…signifies a special gift for storytelling, but tells also of a profound joy for imagining a story.”
Rheinische Post
“Versatile in language and with much feeling for historical flair, tension and wit.”
Flug Magazine NRW
“A crime story which fascinates through its detailed historical flair.”
EKZ
“…splendidly researched crime story…explosive writing style. A highly intricate thriller…”
Geschichte von Koeln
“The author achieved something remarkable...a thrilling crime drama in which he almost playfully delivers historical information.”
Neues Leben
“This crime story is perfect for those who love tension packed thrills… For all devotees of intelligent crime stories…”
Schuess Bonn
“…story of the battle for supremacy at the top of Society, far beyond all other historical writings.”
Koelnische Rundschau
“Versatile in language and with much feeling for historical flair, tension and wit.”
Compact Magazine
"…author’s fluid writing…signifies a special gift for storytelling, but tells also of a profound joy for imagining a story."
Rheinische Post
"Versatile in language and with much feeling for historical flair, tension and wit."
Flug Magazine NRW
"A crime story which fascinates through its detailed historical flair."
EKZ
"…splendidly researched crime story…explosive writing style. A highly intricate thriller…"
Neues Leben
"This crime story is perfect for those who love tension packed thrills… For all devotees of intelligent crime stories…"
Schuess Bonn
"…story of the battle for supremacy at the top of Society, far beyond all other historical writings."
Koelnische Rundschau
"Versatile in language and with much feeling for historical flair, tension and wit."
Geschichte von Koeln
"The author achieved something remarkable...a thrilling crime drama in which he almost playfully delivers historical information."
Publishers Weekly

German author Schatzing, best-known for his environmental SF thriller The Swarm(2006), uses the death of real-life architect Gerhard Morart, the designer of the cathedral of Cologne, as his starting point for this compelling historical suspense novel. Work on what would become the most famous church in Germany has been underway for a dozen years in 1260 when Morart falls from the unfinished building's roof-murdered, in the author's fictional scenario, as the result of a shadowy conspiracy. Unfortunately for the plotters, Jacob the Fox, a thief known for his fiery red hair, witnesses the act and actually hears the victim's dying words, leading the murderers to target Jacob and anyone he might have spoken to. The main mystery revolves around the motives of the plotters, whose identities aren't kept secret. Strong action sequences and a dramatic look at a time and place unfamiliar to most readers should help solidify Schatzing's reputation as a versatile storyteller. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

First published in Germany in 1995 as Tod und Teufel, this murder mystery is set in the city of Cologne in the year 1260. While stealing apples from the archbishop's orchard, Jacob the Fox sees architect Gerhard Morart fall to his death from the scaffolding of his own cathedral. He spots a "tall black shadow" on the scaffolding-the devil? No, simply the murderer, bent on leaving no witnesses. Fortunately, Jacob finds stalwart allies to help him puzzle out the reasons behind Morart's death, because the killer isn't working alone. Schatzing's (The Swarm) rather generic title masks a work of compelling originality, including a magnificent chase scene through the fish market. Political intrigue, philosophical musing, and a dash of romance mix together beautifully in a thriller that makes history not only palatable but quite entertaining. If only the epilog had focused on the Fox and his friends rather than what actually happened in Cologne! Strongly recommended for medium and large public libraries and highly suitable for academic fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/07.]
—Laurel Bliss

Kirkus Reviews
First published in Germany in 1995, this historical novel from Schatzing (The Swarm, 2005, etc.) concerns a 13th-century petty thief who witnesses the murder of a renowned cathedral architect. While he is pilfering apples from the Cologne archbishop's orchard, Jacob "the Fox" watches a dark figure with streaming blond hair shove Gerhard Morart to his death from high scaffolding. The famous architect is not the only victim. Within the next few days the mysterious killer, known as Urquhart, casually murders a whore, a vagrant and several others, usually with his trademark weapon, a tiny crossbow. Jacob becomes acquainted with potential love-interest Richmodis, along with her father and uncle, and the three of them inexplicably team up with Jacob. Whether it is to catch the killer, or to keep themselves safe, or to warn the citizens of Cologne, the lack of insight provided about the characters' thoughts and feelings results in confusion as to what motivates the foursome and what they hope to accomplish. Similarly, although the killer's patrons repeatedly allude to a secret alliance between aristocratic families, the failure in character development results in many questions about what drives their decisions. Only toward the end, for example, is the blind old matriarch Blithildis Overstolze's role in the ill-defined alliance revealed in a few cursory summary paragraphs. History and fiction are awkwardly interwoven throughout the book. While the murderous Urquhart is on the loose, Richmodis's uncle Jaspar issues dull monologues about Cologne history, the Crusades and the tension between guild and patrician classes. The tale also jumps disjointedly from person to person, from scene to scene,and fails to establish much of a voice. Justice prevails at last, and a dry historical epilogue concludes the book. Lackluster characters populate a choppy narrative. Agent: Imrie Malcolm/Imrie & Dervis Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061646614
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/11/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Schatzing is the author of the international bestseller The Swarm. A winner of the Köln Literatur Prize, the Corine Award, and the German Science Fiction Award, Schatzing lives and works in Cologne, Germany.

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Read an Excerpt

Death and the Devil
A Novel

Chapter One

10 September

Outside the Gates

"I'm cold."

"You're always cold. You're an arrant coward, that's your problem."

Heinrich drew his cloak tighter around him and shot his companion an angry glance. "You don't really mean that, Matthias. It is cold."

Matthias shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry, then. If you insist—it's cold."

"You don't understand. I feel cold inside." Heinrich threw his hands out in a theatrical gesture. "That we have to stoop to such means! As God's my witness, there's no man less inclined to violence, but—"

"God's not your witness," Matthias interrupted.

"What?"

"Why should God waste his precious time on your whining and moaning? To tell the truth, I'm surprised you managed to get on your horse at this time of the night."

"Now you're going too far," Heinrich hissed. "Show a little respect, if you please."

"I show everyone the respect they deserve." Matthias steered his horse around an overturned oxcart that suddenly loomed up out of the darkness. The light was fading rapidly. It had been sunny, but it was September and the days were growing shorter, the evenings cooler. Mists rose, shrouding the world in enigmatic gloom. By now the walls of Cologne were almost half a mile behind them and all they had were their flickering torches. Matthias knew well that Heinrich was almost soiling himself with fear, and that fact gave him a grim satisfaction. Heinrich had his good points, but courage was not one of them.

He decided to ignore him and urged his horse forward.

In general no one would think of leaving the city at this hour, unless they had been thrown out. The area was unsafe. There were bands of thieves and robbers everywhere, despite the Pacification proclaimed by the archbishop of Cologne together with the lords of the surrounding district. That was in 1259, scarcely a year ago. It was all drawn up in a document plastered with seals. If you believed it, travelers and merchants could make their way across the Rhineland without being robbed and killed by brigands. But promises that were more or less kept by day, especially when the merchants' contributions toward the rather sparse protection was due, did not extend to the night. Only recently the body of a girl had been found, raped and strangled, in the fields not many yards from the Frisian Gate. Her parents were reputable people from a family of armorers who had lived for generations at the sign of the helmet opposite the archbishop's palace. One rumor had it that the Arch-fiend himself had cast a spell on the girl to lure her out, others suggested that the farmer in whose field she had been found should be broken on the wheel. It was not so much that they thought he was the murderer, but how did the daughter of respectable burghers come to be lying dead on his land?Especially since no one could explain what she was doing out there so late. Once the first wave of indignation had died down, however, it turned out that it was common knowledge she had been going around with minstrels and worse, lardmongers from Grease Lane and scum that should never have been allowed into the city in the first place. Her own fault, then. It was better not to rely on the Pacification.

"Wait!"

Heinrich was a long way behind. Matthias realized he had given his Arab steed his head and slowed it down to a walk until his companion caught up. They had passed several farms now since leaving the city and reached a small wood. The moon cast only a faint light on the land around.

"Shouldn't we wait somewhere here?" Heinrich's voice was trembling almost as much as his hands.

"No." Matthias was peering through the first trees of the wood. The path disappeared into the darkness. "We have to go to the clearing. Are you sure you wouldn't rather go back?"

"What? By myself?!" Mortified, Heinrich bit his lip, but too late, it was out. For a moment anger overcame his cowardice. "You keep trying to provoke me. As if I'd turn back! As if the thought would even occur to me, here in the darkness with a puffed-up peacock at my side who's always shooting his mouth off—"

"Talking of mouths," Matthias hissed, reining in his horse and grabbing Heinrich by the shoulder, "you'd do better to keep yours shut. If I were the man we've come to meet and heard your wailing I'd have taken off long ago."

Heinrich glared at him in a mixture of fury and humiliation, then pulled himself away and rode on through the trees, crouching low in the saddle. Matthias followed. The shadows of the branches danced in the light from their torches. A few minutes later they reached the clearing and stopped. Apart from the rustling of the wind through the leaves there was nothing to be heard but the monotonous hooting of an owl somewhere above.

They waited in silence.

After a while Heinrich began to twist and turn restlessly in his saddle. "And if he doesn't come?"

"He'll come."

"How can you be so sure? People like that are nothing—here today, gone tomorrow."

"He'll come. William of Jülich recommended him, and that means he'll come."

"The count of Jülich knew nothing at all about him."

"What one knows about these people is not important. It's what they do that counts and this man served William well."

"I hate not knowing who other people are."

"Why? It's easier like that."

"Nevertheless. Perhaps we ought to go back and think everything over again."

"And what will you tell the others? That you pissed your pants and your horse with fear?"

"You'll apologize for that!"

"Just hold your tongue."

"I've not reached my age to have you shut me up all the time!"

"I'm three years older, remember?" Matthias mocked. "The older, the wiser. And since I don't think I've achieved wisdom myself yet, you can tell roughly where you stand. Now keep quiet."

Death and the Devil
A Novel
. Copyright © by Frank Schatzing. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Death and the Devil
A Novel

Chapter One

10 September

Outside the Gates

"I'm cold."

"You're always cold. You're an arrant coward, that's your problem."

Heinrich drew his cloak tighter around him and shot his companion an angry glance. "You don't really mean that, Matthias. It is cold."

Matthias shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry, then. If you insist—it's cold."

"You don't understand. I feel cold inside." Heinrich threw his hands out in a theatrical gesture. "That we have to stoop to such means! As God's my witness, there's no man less inclined to violence, but—"

"God's not your witness," Matthias interrupted.

"What?"

"Why should God waste his precious time on your whining and moaning? To tell the truth, I'm surprised you managed to get on your horse at this time of the night."

"Now you're going too far," Heinrich hissed. "Show a little respect, if you please."

"I show everyone the respect they deserve." Matthias steered his horse around an overturned oxcart that suddenly loomed up out of the darkness. The light was fading rapidly. It had been sunny, but it was September and the days were growing shorter, the evenings cooler. Mists rose, shrouding the world in enigmatic gloom. By now the walls of Cologne were almost half a mile behind them and all they had were their flickering torches. Matthias knew well that Heinrich was almost soiling himself with fear, and that fact gave him a grim satisfaction. Heinrich had his good points, but courage was not one of them.

He decided to ignore him and urged his horse forward.

In general no one would think of leaving the city at this hour, unless they had been thrown out. The area was unsafe. There were bands of thieves and robbers everywhere, despite the Pacification proclaimed by the archbishop of Cologne together with the lords of the surrounding district. That was in 1259, scarcely a year ago. It was all drawn up in a document plastered with seals. If you believed it, travelers and merchants could make their way across the Rhineland without being robbed and killed by brigands. But promises that were more or less kept by day, especially when the merchants' contributions toward the rather sparse protection was due, did not extend to the night. Only recently the body of a girl had been found, raped and strangled, in the fields not many yards from the Frisian Gate. Her parents were reputable people from a family of armorers who had lived for generations at the sign of the helmet opposite the archbishop's palace. One rumor had it that the Arch-fiend himself had cast a spell on the girl to lure her out, others suggested that the farmer in whose field she had been found should be broken on the wheel. It was not so much that they thought he was the murderer, but how did the daughter of respectable burghers come to be lying dead on his land?Especially since no one could explain what she was doing out there so late. Once the first wave of indignation had died down, however, it turned out that it was common knowledge she had been going around with minstrels and worse, lardmongers from Grease Lane and scum that should never have been allowed into the city in the first place. Her own fault, then. It was better not to rely on the Pacification.

"Wait!"

Heinrich was a long way behind. Matthias realized he had given his Arab steed his head and slowed it down to a walk until his companion caught up. They had passed several farms now since leaving the city and reached a small wood. The moon cast only a faint light on the land around.

"Shouldn't we wait somewhere here?" Heinrich's voice was trembling almost as much as his hands.

"No." Matthias was peering through the first trees of the wood. The path disappeared into the darkness. "We have to go to the clearing. Are you sure you wouldn't rather go back?"

"What? By myself?!" Mortified, Heinrich bit his lip, but too late, it was out. For a moment anger overcame his cowardice. "You keep trying to provoke me. As if I'd turn back! As if the thought would even occur to me, here in the darkness with a puffed-up peacock at my side who's always shooting his mouth off—"

"Talking of mouths," Matthias hissed, reining in his horse and grabbing Heinrich by the shoulder, "you'd do better to keep yours shut. If I were the man we've come to meet and heard your wailing I'd have taken off long ago."

Heinrich glared at him in a mixture of fury and humiliation, then pulled himself away and rode on through the trees, crouching low in the saddle. Matthias followed. The shadows of the branches danced in the light from their torches. A few minutes later they reached the clearing and stopped. Apart from the rustling of the wind through the leaves there was nothing to be heard but the monotonous hooting of an owl somewhere above.

They waited in silence.

After a while Heinrich began to twist and turn restlessly in his saddle. "And if he doesn't come?"

"He'll come."

"How can you be so sure? People like that are nothing—here today, gone tomorrow."

"He'll come. William of Jülich recommended him, and that means he'll come."

"The count of Jülich knew nothing at all about him."

"What one knows about these people is not important. It's what they do that counts and this man served William well."

"I hate not knowing who other people are."

"Why? It's easier like that."

"Nevertheless. Perhaps we ought to go back and think everything over again."

"And what will you tell the others? That you pissed your pants and your horse with fear?"

"You'll apologize for that!"

"Just hold your tongue."

"I've not reached my age to have you shut me up all the time!"

"I'm three years older, remember?" Matthias mocked. "The older, the wiser. And since I don't think I've achieved wisdom myself yet, you can tell roughly where you stand. Now keep quiet."

Death and the Devil
A Novel
. Copyright © by Frank Schatzing. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

In this riveting historical thriller in the tradition of The Name of the Rose, internationally bestselling author Frank Schatzing brings medieval Germany to life—a world of rich and poor, good and evil, superstition and reason, faith and hypocrisy—shaped by the hand of God.

In the year 1260, under the supervision of the architect Gerhard Morart, the most ambitious building in all of Christendom is rising above the merchant city of Cologne: the great cathedral. 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 takes a dark turn when Morart plunges to his death from the heights of his creation.

The people of the city believe it was an accident. But one witness sees the truth: a street-smart red-haired petty thief called Jacob the Fox. He alone saw a huge man with long hair, clad all in black, push Morart to his death.

And now this monster—a cool, efficient assassin with remarkable speed, strength, and intelligence—is after the uneducated and superstitious young redhead who fears the killer is the Devil himself.

But the wily Fox discovers some unlikely allies: a beautiful clothes dyer, her drunken rascal of a father, and her learned uncle, a man of God who loves a bottle of wine almost as much as he loves a battle of wits. Engaged in a desperate battle with some very powerful forces, the foursome bands together to expose an evil conspiracy—a quest for justice that will lead them straight into the path of a relentless killer determined to silence them all.

Questions for Discussion

The protagonist's name is Jacob the Fox. Is this an apt name? How does it reflect who the character is and what he does over the course of the novel? And how do his experiences reflect the age in which he lives?

At the beginning of the novel Jacob is upset that his lover and friend, Maria, refuses to be content with her lot in life, with "what God has ordained" for the poor and the rich. How much of our lives is free will? How much is fate? How do we differentiate between the two—and how are they connected?

What role did reason and knowledge play in the lives of Jasper and Urquhart the assassin? How are these two men similar?

Who is the Devil in the title?

What did the cathedral represent to its architect, Gerhard Morart? What did it represent for the other patricians and for the age itself? Was it worth dying for?

What is the role of religion and piety in the book? What do they mean for Jacob? For Jaspar? For Urquhart? For the patricians?

The Devil represents different things to each of the characters. What are these different images and how do they reflect the outlook and experiences of each character?

One of the themes of the novel is injustice. How is it manifested through the various characters? And how is it addressed by each?

Another theme is time. The mystics equated the idea of time—and its corollary progress—with heresy and vanity. Does vanity influence progress? Can we have progress without vanity?

Death and the Devil explores the notions of reason and faith. How do they relate to each other in the story? Can they exist separately from each? How does each affect the other?

Though this novel is set in the thirteenth century, do you see any similarities between this world and our own?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Middle Ages Thriller. Great fiction....

    I'm a big fan of historical fiction and this novel hit the spot. Great characters, original plot and just plain good story telling. Set in the dark ages, the author makes you feel like you're there. Characters you want to hear and see. You're "involved" with the people, the place and the outcome of this thriller from page one. Don't just take my word for it. pick it up and read it yourself.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2010

    Will not read again.

    This book is not very historically accurate, there are a few wordings that should have been changed. One example is this book uses the word girlfriend, I'm not an expert but I do not believe people were using this term during this time period. If you can over look mistakes like that this book is ok, but I won't waste my time by reading it again.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 30, 2010

    A well written Middle ages Mystery

    While I was not sure of this book at first, it was well worth reading. You do not really know who or what exactly will happen till the very end. Similar to Pillars of the Earth, but less about building and more about politics, friendship and what it was like to be poor back when there was no government programs. Well written and nice to read some who is not an American author.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A terrific historical fiction tal

    In 1260 in Cologne, German architect Gerhard Morart continues to lead the construction of the greatest cathedral the world has ever known. A dozen years since he and others began the pious project, Morart and his select crew build the rising spires of this extraordinary ecclesiastical edifice at the same time an acrimonious war between the church and the merchant middle class has divided the city. The archbishop of Cologne and the ruling merchants see the profit to be made from this incredible complex cathedral as each wants to own and control it.---------------- Suddenly with the end somewhat in sight, homicide takes control of the hostilities. Someone pushes Morart off of the partially completed roof to his death in the street below. No witness steps forward. However, the sly thief Jacob the Fox not only saw who shoved the architect off the scaffolding, but heard Morart¿s final words. However the killer saw Jacob and he and his fellow conspirators know who this witness is from his red hair. They swarm the city planning to kill him and anyone he is seen talking to as no one must know the truth re who assassinated the architect. ---------------------------- DEATH AND THE DEVIL is a terrific historical fiction tale based on the real death of the Cologne Cathedral master architect Morart in 1260. Readers know early on who killed him (and subsequently others) and the identities of his fellow conspirators, but not why Morart had to die. Besides a deep look at thirteenth century Cologne, readers obtain a sense of the power struggle between a rising pragmatic merchant society (the medieval middle class) and the Church. Genre readers will fully appreciate the talent of Frank Schatzing, as this is a winner even in translation from the original German.--------------- Harriet Klausner

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