Florence Byham Weinberg, click here
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||Twilight Times Books
||June 15, 2005
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Father Ignaz (Ygnacio) Pfefferkorn, a missionary from the Sonora Desert in northern Mexico, is caught in the Expulsion of all Jesuits in 1767. After enduring eight years of prison and abuse, he is incarcerated in La Caridad Monastery where the abbot recruits him to help solve two murders. In the course of his investigations, Father Ignaz finds his own life in peril.
Chapter I: Limbo
I am a priest. I am a Jesuit.
These words help me remember; help me believe. I've repeated them throughout my eight years of prison and pain, more so these past four sweltering days in this dusty coach. My wrists aren't infected yet, but surely my ankles are. With each jolt of these iron-shod wheels on the rough road, the manacles and leg irons cut deeper into my flesh, tormenting me.
We're four days north of Cádiz and its prison at the Port of Santa María. My next prison, the monastery of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad, Our Lady of Charity, is not far away.
I am a priest. I am a Jesuit.
A storm was almost upon us. In the gathering gloom, I stared out the dirty coach window and watched black clouds ink out the sunset, trying to forget my pain. Flashes of sheet lightning lit the countryside every so often, reflecting on the man opposite me, riding backwards-my jailer. My plight was not his concern. He'd given me a little water and some dry bread, and allowed me to relieve myself on this journey, but I was baggage to him, nothing more. The horses were better treated.
Father Ygnacio Pfefferkorn, S.J
In the space of a few heartbeats, gloom became darkness. A sudden, blinding flash and ear-splitting thunderclap lifted me from my seat. The horses bolted, tipping the coach almost on its side, and I slammed against the coach door. There was no way to lessen the impact, such was my surprise, and an involuntary cry escaped me as new pain mixed with old. Until that moment, I'd managed to endure my plight in silence.
I heard the coachman's angry shouts and the crack of his whip. He regained control, the coach righted itself with a jarring thump and I struggled back into my seat. The throbbing of my wrists and ankles now provided a dull background of pain to sharp new stabs from my shoulder, but I was still alive. I offered up a silent prayer, thanking God we were still upright, and reflected on my helplessness, mine and my brother Jesuits.'
We'd been helpless from the moment we were expelled from Spain and its colonies, and from all of Western Europe as well. Recently I'd heard our Society was suppressed completely by order of the Pope. Our Holy Mother Church had reduced us to nothing.
My own ordeal was now beginning its ninth year. I was arrested in 1767, near my mission in the Sonora Desert. I survived the death march across Mexico and that suffocating voyage in coffin-size cells on the prison ship bound for Cádiz. Twenty-six Sonora missionaries survived along with me, but twenty-four did not. Perhaps those martyred dead on the road to Vera Cruz were luckier than I.
Eight years of beatings and interrogations followed.
The excuse for keeping us was that we knew too much about classified Spanish installations in the Sonora Desert. But, in reality, the beatings and interrogations were about the gold. Always, the gold. No one, not even King Carlos III, believed we didn't know where it was hidden. There were gold and silver mines in Sonora, and we missionaries must each have had our secret hoards. After all, we were-once were-Jesuits! I shook my head with a bitter smile.
Another flash of lightning, almost as close. I caught sight of my reflection in the window glass, and a face still recognizably north European stared back at me. Yes, the eyes were still familiar, intense blue with pure whites. My hair was still blond, but now mixed with gray, cut short and combed straight back from my high forehead as always, plastered in place now by dust and grease. Otherwise, I hardly knew myself.
Repeated bouts of malaria had emaciated my frame. My left cheek was disfigured by a whip scar; a split right eyebrow testified to another whiplash, and a ruptured vein under the left eye to someone's fist. By some miracle, my hawk nose was still intact, as were my teeth. I'd been beaten, yes, but not yet broken. Not as long as I could remember who and what I was.
I am a priest. I am a Jesuit.
The lightning this time played back and forth across the sky, bringing with it a brief squall of rattling hailstones. Bracing myself against any further jolts, I pressed my face to the window. The stark white light revealed a walled complex of buildings ahead, atop a low rise. It had to be the monastery at last. La Caridad! There lay my dark future, and an involuntary shiver shook me. That brief glimpse showed me a huge church dominated by a round tower over the transept, a separate bell tower rearing itself above the façade, several buildings and perhaps some ruins as well.
As I risked more pain to rub my shoulder again, my hands brushed against the edges of a letter, sealed with wax and tucked into the inner breast pocket of my robe. It was a message from Abbot Dom Gerónimo, Royal Inspector of Prisons from a Norbertine monastery in Madrid, to his peer in La Caridad, to be presented sealed and unread upon my arrival. He'd been abbot there once, and described the place to me. If his letter denounced my so-called crime committed at Santa María, my imprisonment at La Caridad would be real martyrdom. Yet, his friendship had saved me worse persecution up to now. Could it be my load of chains was simply official reaction to my 'misdeed?
The brief hail turned into pounding rain. The coachman cursed loudly and lashed the horses into a trot, only to slow them to a walk once they topped the rise. We turned right and halted before a massive gate in the monastery wall, surmounted by a fan-shaped iron grille under an ornate stone arch. The coachman jumped down and ran to the entrance, where he rang a bell and pressed close against the heavy double doors to shelter from the steady rain.
We waited for what seemed like many minutes. At last the bolt rattled and the doors creaked open. A hooded monk motioned him inside. The coachman took the nearest horse by the bit and led the whole equipage into a courtyard the size of a parade ground, past stone posts with heavy, ornate chains suspended between them, up to an open doorway. I could see light streaming out, glimmering on the streaks of falling rain, but no movement inside, just a stone wall with an arch and darkness beyond.
The church was straight ahead. A pair of wide stone steps led to heavy doors twice a man's height, hand-carved in square panels. Above them, barely visible in the darkness and the rain, loomed the bell tower. I squinted and made out the silhouettes of three bulky storks' nests, clinging to the side ledges and top of the tower.
My jailer stepped out first, then opened the door on my side and offered his hands to help me down. It was his first courtesy, a gesture I supposed was meant for show. My stiff legs threatened to buckle when I stood, and the pain in my wrists and ankles forced me to draw a sharp breath. I stared down. The coach's steps were twenty inches apart, but the chain between my leg irons only a foot long. Each time I'd left the coach during the journey, I'd hopped down, but this time I could not. Both his hands were extended, meaning I'd have to let go of the doorframe.
I managed the first step, but on attempting the second, the chain caught and I fell, helpless, my knees grazing the muddy cobblestones before the bailiff caught me, thank God! My knees were saved, but my ankles were cut still deeper, bleeding into my shoes as I shambled along.
I followed him through the pelting rain until we were inside the antechamber, where light from oil lamps flooded us with a warm, yellow glow. There, a stoop-shouldered monk met us, hands thrust together into the black sleeves of his robe. His face and even his tonsured head had high color compared to my own. The reflection I'd seen in the coach window during that lightning flash showed me as pasty white.
He'd seen my fall, I judged from the sympathetic twist of his mouth. After a moment's hesitation he extended a hand. "Welcome to La Caridad. I'm Brother Eugenio, the scribe here. You must surely be…?"
I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath, gritting my teeth once more against the waves of pain. My voice came out hoarse; my words were halting. I could not control my own hand's trembling as I met his.
"I am...Ygnacio Pfefferkorn, Society…of Jesus."
The stark white light revealed a walled complex of buildings ahead, atop a low rise. It had to be the monastery at last. La Caridad! There lay my dark future, and an involuntary shiver shook me.
A must -read!, August 12, 2006
Reviewed by Midwest Book Review: 5 stars
"The Storks of La Caridad" is Professor Emerita Florence Weinberg's third historical mystery featuring Father Ygnacio Pfefferkorn, a detective priest character based on an actual historical Jesuit missionary who was forcibly removed from his Sonora Desert mission around 1767 to be imprisoned for 6 years near Cadiz, Spain before being sent to La Caridad and the Norbertines for two years. Weinberg's painstaking research and rich historical detail of an obscure but bloody epoch in church and secular Spanish American history provide a flawless framework for this intriguing tale of bloody survival and a martyr's forgiveness. All notes ring true in the world of Father Ygnacio, but how do they lead to the solution of two murders and the supposed theft of an ancient charter to the monastery in time to preserve Ygnacio's threatened mortal existence? The storks of L Caridad are the natural historians and observers of the intrigues of the abbey. Can Father Ygnacio possibly follow their example and find his way through the maze of danger, before his limited venue as endangered holy sleuth literally expires? "The Storks of La Caridad" is beautifully written, as well as meticulously researched. It will grip its readers, shock them, and confound them. Along the way, much valuable and accurate history will be painlessly assimilated. Perhaps this is the art of historical mystery writing at its best. "The Storks of La Caridad" is a must -read!
Murder rocks the monastery
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2005
Author blends fiction, history in mystery
By Steve Bennett
SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS BOOK EDITOR
Father Ygnacio Pferkon must catch a killer to save his own life. Two monks at Nuestra Señora de la Caridad have been murdered, the monastery's charter has been stolen, and it's up to the Jesuit priest to uncover who's behind the deaths before the shadowy figure strikes again—most likely at Don Ygnacio himself.
Murder mysteries rarely explore the monastic life. A crime-solving priest, for goodness' sake?
But that's exactly what San Antonio author Florence Weinberg has created in her series of mysteries based on the life of Ignaz Pfefferkorn (Don Ygnacio Pferkon), who was born in Germany in 1725, entered the Society of Jesus, served in Mexican monasteries [sic!: missions] and was arrested and expelled along with his Jesuit missionary colleagues by the order of Spanish King Carlos III in 1767.
In the latest thriller—the first two were set in the Sonora Desert—Don Ygnacio is being held under benevolent house arrest at the monastery called La Caridad in Spain, having been held prisoner by the Spanish government for eight years. He has endured repeated interrogation and beatings by the authorities, who believe he knows the whereabouts of Mexican gold, so the sojourn at La Caridad is heaven-sent.
Weinberg, a retired professor of French and Spanish at Trinity University, brings her expertise on 18th-century Spain to bear in her excellent new novel, "The Storks of La Caridad," which will be published by Twilight Times Books in May. Mystery fans can get a sneak preview of the book today, when Weinberg signs advance copies at the Twig Book Shop.
"La Caridad" works on two levels. First, it's a rollicking mystery, full of plot twists based on real events, interesting characters modeled after historical figures and more than its share of red herrings, mostly invented by Weinberg. Second, it's a scholarly re-creation of 18th century Spain, from the dress to the architecture to the food, thoroughly researched and seamlessly written. And let's just say that Weinberg knows her Spanish Inquisition and her colonial Catholicism.
"One of my biggest concerns was that the book be historically accurate as well as a good mystery read," Weinberg says. "I was a professor of French Renaissance literature and Spanish and French language for many years, so I know the period very well and have done a lot of research on the Jesuits during that period. I spent three summers in Spain trying to find out what happened to this man (Pfefferkorn). I found remarkably little, but enough to write the books."
The Storks of La Caridad
Nancy Evans for Southwest Book Views, Autumn 2005, p. 20
Gruesome murders, cowled monks wielding daggers and a temptress in satin all swirl through the plot of this well-crafted historical mystery. The storks of the title are a decorative flourish in an extraordinary setting, the Spanish monastery of Nuestra Señora de La Caridad. Author Florence Weinberg presents, in evocative and thoroughly researched detail, life in a small religious community circumscribed by ancient walls and venerated traditions; in the 18th century, a period of upheaval in church politics, La Caridad is caught up in a local version of the wider power struggle.
Abbot Dom Gregorio is resisting efforts by his bishop, Cuadrillero, to strip the monastery of traditional tithes a death blow for La Caridad. But Dom Gregorio possesses a secret weapon, an ancient charter he hopes will block the bishop.
Into the imbroglio stumbles a gaunt captive, ex-Jesuit Ignaz Pfefferkorn, pulled from his missionary work in Sonora, New Spain, when his Order was accused of treason against the Spanish Crown and disbanded. Filling in the sparse details known of the real Pfefferkorn's life after New Spain, Weinberg portrays him as persecuted by the Spanish civil authorities for years, then remanded to La Caridad to be held indefinitely as an ecclesiastical prisoner.
Pfefferkorn, a native of Mannheim in the Rhineland, is a man of culture whose devotion to the maligned Society of Jesus is undiminished. He arrives at La Caridad in despair and ill health. The abbot treats him with decency while the monks divide along the political fault line. The abbot's loyalists accept Ygnacio Pferkon, as they call him, while those who feel obliged to obey the bishop disdain the new man.
La Caridad's all-important charter disappears, then one of the pro-bishop monks is killed in a fall from the bell-tower. Soon another dies under strange circumstances.
Aside from the suspenseful plot set in a fascinating time and place, what makes this book a rewarding read are the engrossing characters, chief among them Father Ygnacio. Weinberg's brooding protagonist battles manfully with his demons, struggling to overcome bitterness at the unjust suffering inflicted on his Order and himself, and to use his considerable inner resources to benefit those at La Caridad who show him kindness. Temptations aplenty test his pious resolve, including the Bishop's sly offer of escape from Spain and further prosecution.
Driven figures drive events at La Caridad, and Weinberg rivets the reader right up to the end. But at that crucial point her tale of the uprooted Jesuit and embattled monastery breaks off abruptly, leaving many plot strands dangling. Will La Caridad survive or succumb? Since this is her third novel to feature Ignaz Pfefferkorn, the reader can always hope the author will produce a sequel and finally reveal all.
Reviews for "The Storks of La Caridad"
|Reviewed by John Domino
|Well written but so unbelievable!
Is this based on a true story?
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