The Fifth Gospel, by Ian Caldwell

Five stars (of five)Caldwell returns after a decade with a highly controversial and yet equally powerful novel that stirs up the Catholic Church to its core. With a controversial exhibit set to open within the Vatican, the curator of the Vatican Museums is found dead and an attack on the home of his research partner, Father Alex Andreou, only adds to the mystery.  Andreou, a Greek Eastern Catholic priest living inside the Vatican acts as the novel’s central character and as a slew of inner battles to keep the reader curious. Andreou takes it upon himself to piece together not only what might have happened to the curator, once the police give up their investigation, but also any motives that outsiders could have for killing such a holy man. At the heart of the personal investigation lies the dead curator’s secret: what the four Christian gospels – and a little-known, true-to-life fifth gospel known as the Diatessaron – reveal about the Church’s most controversial holy relic, the Shroud of Turin. The reader is taken on numerous journeys as Andreou peels back the mysteries of the gospels, divisions between the two Catholic Churches, his own family, and the history of the Shroud, all in an attempt to come to the ultimate truth. However, this truth might not set anyone free, but simply imprison them all the more. In a thoroughly thought provoking novel, perfect for the time of year I read it (the week leading up to Easter), Caldwell pulls the open-minded reader into the midst of an extremely powerful battle within the Vatican walls.

After reading The Rule of Four, I was not too sure what Caldwell would do with this novel, nor why it took so long to create it. After completing this piece, I can now better understand what the delay might have been, as well as the eagerness to carefully present each and every sentence. This is not a swashbuckling Dan Brown-esque critique of Catholicism, but more of an overall analysis of Church doctrine, as well as the central stories on which Christians found their faith; the Holy Gospels. This novel is not for any reader seeking a light and fluffy navigation through a storyline, with some controversies peppered throughout, but a very cerebral analysis of events and issues that have confounded the Church for centuries. Is much of what Caldwell presents blasphemy or sacrilege? Perhaps to those who wish to bury their heads in the sand and accept the word from the pulpit without question. However, the open-minded reader will pick out some of the wonderfully ripe pieces of information, layered pristinely inside a plot and story, and expound on them at their own pace. Caldwell almost goads the reader to look into some of these issues further, as Brown has done in his books, and leave the reader to question rather than regurgitate. Brilliantly done, in my opinion, with more questions left dangling than when I started to read.

Kudos, Mr. Caldwell for such a great piece of work. It leaves much of the superficial Catholic-controvery fiction I have read in the dust and really has left me questioning what else the Vatican may be trying to whitewash or leave hidden.