What do you do when you are told to social distance, either by the “powers that be” around you, or by your doctor, or by your own sense of caution. You may find the time stressful, and wanting something that is more gentle to read in the process. Even still, if you are a lover of mystery books, you might not be satisfied with a dramatic novel or saga. You may still be wanting to have that puzzle to solve, just without the heart pounding that might come with a book involving intrigue, or detectives moving in dangerous places, or even an amateur putting themselves at risk by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I’m not sure it was a conscious thought on my part, but I happened to pick up Death in Delft by Graham Brack and, voila, the perfect book for reading in these tension creating times. It’s a wonderful combination of mystery told in the first person by Master Mercurius, an intellectual pastor with a deliciously dry wit, some sly wit, told in the time of mid to late seventeenth century Holland. A brilliant Dutch scientist, Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek, and the renowned painter Johannes Vermeer make appearances, just to add to the fun. While that sounds like a lot going on, it’s really an easy to follow plot that moves at a good pace with no extraneous angst producing side stories. In other words, it was the perfect read for when I was stuck at home because of the social distancing/sequestering we are doing to try and avoid the pandemic. If you’re looking for something to read, here’s my review to consider.
Three missing girls, one of whom is found dead, result in a minister from the university being sent to Delft to solve the mystery. The story takes place in seventeenth century Holland and is told in the first person by Master Mercurius, who has a sly, dry wit that inserts itself every so often in the form of a wry one-liner that is easy to miss. If you aren’t paying careful attention to what you are reading, you may miss these all together and they are part of what makes this book so engaging.
Although a mystery, there is no frantic running around, no feeling of danger toward Master Mercurius or any of the other characters in the book. Instead, the book moves at a gentle, steady pace as Master Mercurius, with the help of Johannes Vermeer, one of Delft’s leading citizens, unravels the mystery of why the girls were kidnapped and where they are now.
The book offers an interesting view of life in Holland in the 1600’s, including some social mores, religious restrictions, and society structures. Because these bits of information are woven skillfully into the book, it never overwhelms the reader and it may not be until the book is finished that the reader realizes just how much they have learned about the country at the time.
It is interesting to read a fictional idea of what everyday family life for Vermeer might be like. I don’t know how historically accurate it is, but Vermeer is a pleasant character to encounter. The other historical figure in the book is dutch scientist Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. Toward the end of the book, the author offers a peek at his study of microbes which has led to him being considered by some as the father of microbiology. As with Vermeer, most of the story involving Van Leeuwenhoek centers around his life as a village elder and as a family man.
While the solution to the mystery is somewhat of a reveal, it isn’t a big plot twist and I had figured out the reason for the kidnappings about two-thirds of the way through the book. That in no way hampered my enjoyment of the book which was well written and provided an interesting plot without unnecessary tension.
For anyone who is looking for a mystery book that may offer them a quiet read in almost a soothing fashion, this is a good book to consider. It is well written, well paced, and the characters are varied enough to maintain interest in the book. There is not much information offered regarding the geography of Holland, and if the reader is looking for rich descriptions of landscapes, etc., this is not the book for them.
My thanks to Sapere Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced digital read copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
There you have it, and now it’s time for me to return to my activities while I continue to sequester at home. So far I’ve managed to bake lots of new things, persuade our newly adopted rescue cat to come out and let me brush her, and watched while we had the septic tank pumped. There’s just no end to the excitement you can have while staying at home. It’s been a busy day, actually, so I think I’ll go find another book to read. Happy Reading.