Source: Review copy
Publication: ebook: 21 January 2022 from Head of Zeus and paperback 14 April 2022
My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review
Nicolaes de Pelgrom, assassin and devoted servant of George Villiers, will do whatever his master asks of him – even if that means enduring the perilous voyage to the Indies to exact a grieving widow’s revenge.
Making that same journey is Jeronimus Cornelisz, a conniving apothecary determined to escape the backstreets of Amsterdam and become rich beyond imagination. Hired by a criminal mastermind to escort precious cargo to the Indies, he will kill anyone who stands in his way.
When these assassins clash, so too do their missions. One cannot succeed without killing the other. In this deadly game, who will triumph and who will die? And are they even the only players?
I absolutely loved David Mark’s last historical novel, The Zealot’s Bones, so I was really keen to read his new foray into that genre. I was not disappointed. I love this writing, though do be warned, this is graphic, gory stuff which is visceral and horrifying, so do not go into this expecting a gentle story.
Indeed. If you can get past the most gruesome of murders in the prologue, you’ll probably be able to stomach the rest. Mark revels in both the gruesome and the grotesque. This is highly descriptive fiction where you can smell the sweat on the unwashed bodies even of noblemen, albeit covered up with a sickly, cloying scent. This story is also based in part on historical facts; on real people and is very well researched and historically fascinating.
Jeronimus Cornelisz is a dangerous man. It is Haarlem, Holland in 1628. Badly disfigured in his early life he has learned how to charm, dissemble and lie in order to get his way and bring him closer to his aim of great wealth and standing. His skin is suppurating, his face scarred like snakeskin and he coughs up blood every morning. He is unpleasant to look at, but yet there is something mesmerising about him that brooks no dissent. An apothecary to trade, he knows what potions will unleash the darkest desires of men and enslave them to their lustful urges. A small man with jerking limbs, he is the possessor of a massive God complex. He is the titular antagonist.
Nicolaes de Pelgrom is newly released from gaol. He is lamenting the loss of his mentor and inspiration, Dr. Lambe, who has been brought down by a crowd unable to contain their anger and resentment over Lambe’s association with the King’s right hand man, the reviled Duke of Buckingham. Nicolaes is Villiers’ man – an assassin and spy. Buckingham tasks him with serving as an assassin to a grieving widow – Mariam Towerson – whose husband Gabriel, a merchant with the East India Company, was executed at Amboyna, Indonesia by agents of the Dutch East India Company, on accusations of treason.
Masquerading as a soldier, Nicolaes sets sail on the Batavia, bound for Java. Built in Amsterdam in 1628 as the company’s new flagship this is her maiden voyage for Batavia, capital of the Dutch East Indies. Sailing is hell on water. The ship is rat-infested, filthy, disease ridden and dangerous. Also on board is Cornelisz, hired to escort valuable cargo to the Indies, sailing with Commander Francisco Pelsaert, and Captain Ariaen Jacobsz. Cornelisz has his own plans for the Batavia, however, and his cultivation of the Commander and Captain is no more than a ruse designed to cover his real ambitions. He sets about fuelling dissent between the two; a job not difficult as it builds upon an already present animosity,
Also on board is a beautiful woman who has recently buried the last of her brood of young children. Creesje Janszdochter is now sailing to join her husband and it is through her letters to him that we learn a great deal of what is going on. With her is Zwaantie, a maid whose lustful promiscuity knows no bounds.
With both Cornelisz and de Pelgrom on board the Batavia, the scene is set for a brutal and deadly battle on a journey that will prove to be brutal, dangerous and deadly.
David Mark’s rich, descriptive writing is bold and audacious and he immerses you in the horror and brutality of a sea voyage you hope never to have to experience, though this comes as close to that as you’ll ever want. Nicolaes and Cornelisz will face each other in a battle from which only one can emerge victor, and the reader is left in no doubt as to which is the better man.
Verdict: Anatomy of a Heretic is utterly riveting storytelling. Dark, brutal, and gloriously repellent in its descriptions, this is a grotesque and fabulous read that immerses you in deadly intrigue. Visceral and depraved, I loved wallowing in its depths. It’s also a well written, immersive story based on real events . It has many surprises and as long as you have a strong stomach, I think you’ll love it! But do have both emergency kittens and fluffy penguins on hand after you’ve finished. Currently available at a bargain price, this is one not to miss!
David Mark spent more than fifteen years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with the Yorkshire Post. His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the defeatist and jaded police officers; the competent and incompetent investigators; the inertia of the justice system and the sheer raw grief of those touched by savagery and tragedy. He writes the McAvoy series, historical novels and psychological suspense thrillers.