A strong theme of isolation underlines this novel of 14th-century heresy in France. The female characters, from Marquise to Fabrisse to Echo, fend for themselves in a hostile world, existing in their narrow circumstances of birth and at the mercy of indifferent men. Of the predominant male characters, Bernard, the Dominican orphan and Chief Inquisitioner, and Pierre Clerque, the wayward reverend, orbit each other as opposing forces of "good" and "evil". Bernard has never known a mother other than Mother Church, and is driven by a sense of "otherness", his only personal dialogue with God alone. And the twisted body and soul of Pierre Clerque, a priest unable to quell his body's lust for women and his attraction to heretical doctrines, pursues his pleasure with abandon. All of these disturbed souls meet in the village of Montaillou, in an era rife with superstition, where the Roman Church rules with an iron will, torturing and burning any accused of heretical beliefs.
Charmaine Craig's writing is precise, often that of an observer -- much like the Inquisitors themselves, distanced by calculation. Tormented as some of the characters are, particularly Pierre Clerque and Arnaud, the cobbler, we are aware of their fragile humanity, although Pierre's actions seem without conscience. Throughout, the book is burdened by a lack of hope, as ignorant and superstition-riddled peasants cringe before the rage of the Inquisition. Finally, one young woman, Echo (a.k.a. Grazida, daughter of Fabrisse) renounces a life of victimization, marries Arnaud and bears a daughter, Merce. It is this nurturing union that allows Echo to stand accused before the court of the Inquisition.
The novel struggles under the weight of everyday brutality, as well as the passionless church officials who burn and imprison the ignorant with impunity and without mercy. There is no evidence of Christian compassion or forgiveness of the village people. The Good Men is a powerful indictment of a church that allows slaughter in the name of religion. More than a black mark on the history of the most powerful church in Christianity, the Inquisition is a blight on civilization, an unforgettable travesty that cannot be forgotten.