Newman, Sharan 1949–
Newman, Sharan 1949–
PERSONAL: Born April 15, 1949, in Ann Arbor, MI; daughter of Charles William (a U.S. Air Force captain) and Betty (a psychologist; maiden name, Martin) Hill; married Paul Richard Newman (a physicist), June 12, 1971; children: Allison. Education: Antioch College, B.A., 1971; Michigan State University, M.A., 1973, additional study, 1973–75; Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
CAREER: Writer and educator. Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, instructor in English as a second language and director of evening program, 1976; Oxford College, Oxnard, CA, instructor in English as a second language, 1977–79; Asian Refugee Committee, Thousand Oaks, CA, director of and teacher in English school, 1980–.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Leo Baeck Institute, Medieval Academy of America, Science Fiction Writers of America, PEN, Medieval Academy of the Pacific.
AWARDS, HONORS: Philadelphia Children's Reading Round Table Award, 1976, for The Dagda's Harp; Romantic Times Bookclub's Career Achievement Award for Historical Mystery, 1999; Herodotus Award for Best Historical History.
The Dagda's Harp (juvenile), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1977.
Guinevere, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1981.
The Chessboard Queen, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1983.
Guinevere Evermore, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1985.
The Difficult Saint, Forge (New York, NY), 1999.
To Wear the White Cloak, Forge (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor) Crime through Time III, introduction by Anne Perry, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2000.
The Outcast Dove, Forge (New York, NY), 2003.
The Devil's Door, Forge (New York, NY), 2004.
The Real History behind the Da Vinci Code (nonfiction), Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2005.
"CATHERINE LEVENDEUR" MYSTERY SERIES
Death Comes as Epiphany, Tor (New York, NY), 1993.
The Devil's Door, Forge (New York, NY), 1994.
The Wandering Arm, Forge (New York, NY), 1995.
Strong as Death, Forge (New York, NY), 1996.
Cursed in the Blood, Forge (New York, NY), 1998.
Heresy: A Catherine LeVendeur Mystery, Forge (New York, NY), 2002.
The Witch in the Well, Forge (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Sharan Newman began her writing career by publishing several novels exploring the Arthurian legends. In The Chessboard Queen, Newman explores the elements involved in the legendary love story of Lancelot and Guinevere. Judith Szarka stated in the Los Angeles Times that, "in the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, the ideal love is stronger than marriage, but marriage is sacred and indissoluble; herein lies the inevitable, tragic dilemma. This story has been developed throughout the centuries to reflect the prevailing norms and interests of the time. [In The Chessboard Queen] Newman's major contribution to the legend is to humanize Lancelot and Guinevere; they are not wicked or haughty, but good, kind people powerless to withstand their great love."
A Publishers Weekly contributor remarked that in The Chessboard Queen the author reveals the couple as they "struggle painfully with honor and commitment." The reviewer went on to note: "Newman evokes an intriguing ambiance, blending the magical and the historical in this fresh perspective on the Arthurian romance." A critic writing in the Library Journal commented that Newman lends to this ageless story "a fresh viewpoint, excellent writing, and delightful humor."
In 1993, Newman began writing an historical mystery series featuring Catherine LeVendeur, a twelfth-century French nun. Margaret Flanagan wrote in Booklist that in the LeVendeur series, "Newman expertly vivifies twelfth-century Europe" in "extremely intelligent, highly suspenseful, and richly textured historical fiction." In the first novel of the series, Death Comes as Epiphany, LeVendeur is sent to discover who is trying to discredit her convent with slanderous stories of heresy. She must leave the convent and re-enter everyday life in order to pursue her investigation, and solve the murder of a local stonemason as well. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "Newman skillfully depicts historical figures and issues in a very different age, one in which piety and great beauty co-exist with cruelty."
The Wandering Arm finds LeVendeur leaving the convent to marry. But her wedded bliss is short-lived when she is called upon to find a missing church relic. Her investigation exposes her to "the manifold perils of the Paris nether world," according to Margaret Flanagan in Booklist. Flanagan commented that The Wandering Arm is "an extremely intelligent narrative that expertly captures and conveys the authentic flavor of medieval life and thought."
Strong as Death finds LeVendeur, her husband, Edgar, and members of their family in a pilgrimage to Spain to visit a holy shrine to Saint James. When some of their fellow pilgrims begin experiencing unfortunate mishaps, the pair look into the circumstances and uncover a crime in the past which is still having repercussions in the present day. "The vibrant, often unexpected dynamics of Catherine's family give emotional punch to Newman's vivid depiction of medieval life," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly.
In Cursed in the Blood LeVendeur has had a child, and the young family journey to her husband's homeland of Scotland where there is religious strife between his noble family and their serfs. LeVendeur soon discovers a prisoner in the family castle, survives a fire, and works out just who is trying to destroy her husband's family. "If the pace is slow and the language sometimes anachronistically modern," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Newman nevertheless manages to render the complicated matters of state and church interesting and comprehensible."
Catherine is pregnant with her third baby in the mystery Heresy: A Catherine LeVendeur Mystery. In this title she becomes involved in helping her friend Astrolabe prove his innocence in the murder of the nun Cecile. The nun was attempting to protect her virtue as she ran from men under the rule of a local Count when she met up with Astrolabe and Eon, the head of a cult. She eventually met her demise when the cult was attacked by a group of men, but Astrolabe ended up being implicated in her death. Out to solve the mystery of who killed the nun and why, Catherine and Astrolabe eventually find themselves in Reims, where a papal Council is being held and Eon is under arrest for heresy. "A tale that comes alive in its second half, when Newman … vividly describes the carnivalesque atmosphere of the Council at Reims," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Jenny McLarin, writing in Booklist, called the novel "a fascinating and suspenseful story made even more riveting by its historical bent."
Newman focuses on Catherine's cousin, the Jewish merchant Solomon, in The Outcast Dove. Solomon teams up with his friend Aaron Cohen to rescue Aaron's fiancée Mayah, who has been captured by Christian soldiers and taken to Spain. Aaron's friend Brother Victor has already been killed delivering ransom money to free her. Solomon and Aaron are joined by their Christian friend Arnald as they head off to Spain to rescue Mayah. Once there, Solomon encounters an old foe in the guise of a mercenary guard. "Solomon's struggles between his Jewish heritage and his attachment to things secular will resonate with many readers," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented: "Complexity in characterization … and period detail serve Newman well."
Catherine returns in The Witch and the Well. This time Catherine and her brother are determined to help their grandfather at his castle, where the well is running dry. The grandfather is upset over more than the potential loss of water; an ancient legend predicts that the family will die off if the well fails to supply water. Soon the family suffers a series of misfortunes that the grandfather ties to the well, but Catherine sets out to look for the real causes. Patty Engelmann, writing in Booklist, commented that the author "provides her audience with a multifaceted jewel of a historical mystery."
In The Real History behind the Da Vinci Code, Newman turns from her own fiction to examine the international bestseller by Dan Brown. Relying on her expertise in medieval history, Newman explores the facts concerning the legends expounded in Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. George Westerlund, writing in the Library Journal, called the book "both accessible and fun to read." A Library Bookwatch contributor noted that the author "probes many religious questions."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 1995, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Wandering Arm, p. 388; September 1, 1996, Margaret Flanagan, review of Strong as Death, p. 68; December 1, 2002, Jenny McLarin, review of Heresy: A Catherine LeVendeur Mystery, p. 650; December 15, 2004, Patty Engelmann, review of The Witch in the Well, p. 712.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of Heresy, p. 1574; September 15, 2003, review of The Outcast Dove, p. 1158.
Kliatt, May, 2002, Maureen K. Griffin, review of Death Comes as Epiphany, p. 21.
Library Bookwatch, May, 2005, review of The Real History behind the Da Vinci Code.
Library Journal, February 15, 1983, review of The Chessboard Queen, p. 416; February 1, 2005, George Westerlund, review of The Real History behind the Da Vinci Code, p. 87.
Los Angeles Times, May 29, 1983, Judith Szarka, review of The Chessboard Queen, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, January 14, 1983, review of The Chessboard Queen, p. 71; June 7, 1993, review of Death Comes as Epiphany, p. 54; June 10, 1996, review of The Chessboard Queen, p. 88; June 29, 1998, review of Cursed in the Blood, p. 39; November 10, 2003, review of The Outcast Dove, p. 46.
Sharan Newman Home Page, http://www.sharannewman.com (March 31, 2006).