Madman by Tracy Groot

Holley's Review #9 of 12
Madman by Tracy Groot
2007 Christy Award, Historical Fiction

Tallis arrived in the little Palestinian town on the shores of Galilee looking for the Decaphiloi, League of Ten Friends, an Academy of Socrates begun by his master Callimachus several years ago. The progress reports from the school stopped arriving several weeks ago and Cal sent Tallis to find out what went wrong. Upon arriving in Hippos, Tallis discovered the school had been disbanded three years before. No one in town would talk to him; no one would profess to know anything about the once thriving Academy. Who sent the progress reports? Who collected the money Cal sent for supplies? Why did the school disband with no word to Callimachus? Of the ten teachers, he found news of only four: a murder, a suicide, a priestess in the cult of Dionysus, and one madman. The hills of Kursi and the tombs found there are home to the madman and the town is becoming increasingly frightened of the whole area. As Tallis investigates the disappearance of the school and the background of the madman, other forces are just as purposefully determined that he will not find out the truth about either one.

I found this novel hard to put down from the very beginning. The historical detail Groot includes about biblical Palestine truly evoked a real sense of time and place without seeming hokey. There were many elements of this story that I found comparable to Robert Harris’ gripping novel, Pompeii, with Madman giving you the same barren landscape, menacing hills and breathless tension. The people in the story know that something bad is going to happen and Groot made me just as nervous about it as they were. The Christianity in this book was subtle and powerful without being overwhelming. There were many scenes in the book which dealt with personal sacrifice, love of all kinds but most especially the topic dealt with in Madman seemed to be “choice”, choosing between good and evil, selfish and selfless, the high road and the low. I don’t know how these authors can walk such a thin line between powerful and paltry, but Tracy Groot has done it. She has taken the biblical story of the Gerasene demoniac and rendered it into a story that makes you think instead of one that preaches at you.
Happy Reading!