It’s hard to figure out where I should start with this book, because there’s a lot of places where I could start.

The Name of the Rose is set in 1327, and the struggles of the Christian church in northern Italy form the real background of the novel. The early 14th century comes through very clearly throughout the pages of the book, and as a historical novel it does extremely well. Various struggles surrounding the idea poverty and the church, heresy, the nature of heresy, the changing nature of towns and power, the emperor and the pope are all there, and come to life as much as the monastery that provides the setting of all the action.

However, all of this is part of the secondary plot, and form long passages that distract from what is technically the main action. The center of the book is a series of murders at a Benedictine monastery, which are investigated by the two main characters. (The main—not viewpoint—character, William of Baskerville, is an obvious homage to the origin of the mystery story, Sherlock Holmes.) The mystery itself is less successful, partially because all the other parts of the book demand too much time to keep it moving consistently, but more because the story is more of a tragedy than the mystery it presents itself as.

The book is well-written, even in translation from Italian, and well worth reading for a good combination of prose, history and mystery, but it tends towards the overwrought and long-winded.