The Name of the Rose is a medieval crime story. Set in a mysterious monastery somewhere in Northern Italy it tells of the investigation of a series of deaths that seem to be linked to the biblical Book of Revelation. The body of a monk has been found at the foot of a tower which had no windows open on the night of his death. Later a monk is found head down in a vat of pig’s blood and another is found dead in a bath. All the deaths seem to be related to a strange book that the abbot doesn’t want anybody to read.
The monk investigating these crimes is an obvious nod to Sherlock Holmes. His name is William of Baskerville and he uses the same techniques and methods as Holmes. He has a novice monk as an assistant, Adso of Melk, who takes the place of Dr. Watson. The crime aspect of the novel is well handled and was the only thing that made me finish this book. Unfortunately the story is littered with digressions and an unnecessary sub-plot about heresy. I have an interest in medieval history and have read a few books that look into the heresies of this era, so that wasn’t the issue. The problem I had was that the digressions broke the flow of the story and ruined the tension.
It’s not often that I rate a film adaptation as being better than the novel on which the film is based. The Name of the Rose is one of those occasions. The film, which starred Sean Connery and Christian Slater, dispences with most of the heresy sub-plot. There is a brief mention of it when a group of Franciscans and some cardinals and papal envoys arrive for a pre-arranged meeting but, other than the inquisitor in the group, they don’t appear much.
If you’re prepared to work through the heresy sub-plot, The Name of the Rose is worth reading for the murder mystery. If not, watch the film instead.