Review: A Turbulent Priest: The Story of Thomas Becket by Jemahl Evans

Judging from the picture, I thought I was downloading a massive three novels. But no, this a regular-length book in three sections: the Warrior, the Rebel, and the Martyr. That was fine with me; I wasn’t sure how much Becket I could handle, considering my past readings. During the buildup to his martyrdom, in the past I remembered a long series of frustrating setbacks brought on mostly by this petty, quarrelsome archbishop. His conduct tried even the pope’s patience; as for Henry—forget about it! So in a way I was relieved that in his book his offenses were more-or-less trimmed down to a manageable concentration. I think the author trimmed a bit too much away (what were the real issues at stake?) but we certainly got the point of the fractured relationship between Becket and Henry:

‘Your chancellor abused church income and encroached upon ecclesiastical privileges’ of the Church of Canterbury,’ Thomas told him.
Henry grabbed a piece of parchment from one of his clerks and glanced at it. He could see from the seal affixed to the bottom that Thomas was correct. It was Thomas’s seal, after all. He was bewildered at his friend’s changed attitude and behaviour.
‘You do realise that you were my chancellor who did this?’
‘Your chancellor did this on your orders.’
‘I had no idea that you were doing any of this?’
‘You gave express instructions to your chancellor…’
‘You were my chancellor!’

And on and on. No wonder Henry was frustrated. He wasn’t the only one; Becket had many supporters, most of whom were dubious about his self-destructive behavior. Much—not all—of the story is seen through the eyes of Thomas’s loyal servant, Osbern—called Rabbit because he was fleet of foot. Osbern thought that Becket had gone too far almost every step of the way, but he nonetheless accompanied him into exile and back, keeping his opinions to himself. I thought it was interesting that one of Becket’s murderers—named the Bear—was a character developed throughout the story; he was even friends with Osbern at the beginning. So he, and to a lesser extent the other murderers, were given personalities. They were not just cardboard characters mindlessly butchering the archbishop.

I enjoyed this book and it moved along very well, though I must say it needed a proofreader; there were many errors in spelling and grammar. If you are sensitive to this, you might have a problem with the text.

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