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The Outcast Dove: A Catherine LeVendeur Mystery    by Sharan Newman order for
Outcast Dove
by Sharan Newman
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Nina de Angeli

Although this is a Catherine LeVendeur mystery, Catherine herself does not appear. Set in 1148, Outcast Dove is the ninth series title, and the first to feature Catherine's charming, free-wheeling cousin Solomon in the central role.

Outcast Dove finds Solomon traveling south from Paris on a routine trading trip for his family business. Soon after his arrival in Toulouse, the seemingly random murder of a young monk makes him wary of hidden dangers and foreshadows a second death. Another Jewish trader, his friend Aaron, involves Solomon in a risky scheme to rescue Aaron's fiancée, who is held captive in a Christian brothel in Spain. Solomon's worst fear on this trip is realized when his estranged father joins the company of travelers, on a rescue mission for his order. The father, once a Talmudic scholar and now a fanatical Christian monk, reveals a deeply divided mentality, suffering and spiritually torn, while Solomon finds his own faith sorely tested.

Readers new to this series should start with the first title, Death Comes at Epiphany, in which Catherine, convent-educated daughter of a 12th century Parisian merchant, discovers a conflict between her love of adventure and her desire to become a cloistered scholar. In the course of the series, the extended LeVendeur family and their trading partners form unlikely alliances and travel both within and outside France, living full lives in spite of a family tendency to stumble over mysteriously dead bodies.

Throughout this award-winning series, the story of the tangled, mutually distrustful relations between the French Jewish community and the dominant Christian culture adds depth and complexity to Newman's colorful portrait of medieval French life. Her meticulous research, surprising plot twists, and gracefully vivacious style make The Outcast Dove another great read.

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