First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Tom Fox, and Quercus (US) for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.
As if heeding the call of reviewers and fans after his initial short story in this series, Fox delivers in spades, again diving into conspiracies as they relate to the Catholic Church and the Vatican. When a stranger appears inside St. Peter’s Basilica, everything seems to stop. The Swiss Guard fall to their knees as the stranger approaches, allowing him to pass and approach the Pope, crippled and wheelchair-bound his entire life. In an event paralleling happenings in the New Testament, the Pope rises and is able to walk when summoned to do so. Thereafter, the Supreme Pontiff ushers this man away into his private residences to talk and espouse the miracle that has just taken place. As amateur cellphone footage of the event begins blasting its way online, former priest-cum-journalist Alexander Trecchio is assigned the task of trying to determine what happened within the Vatican and pinpoint the identity of the man of mystery. No one is talking and no leads are forthcoming, forcing Trecchio to turn to his own research. After tracking down two academics who, through the world of the 140 character rebuttal, have been speaking out against the miraculous events seen by most of the world, Trecchio ventures out for answers. Before he can arrive to speak to them, both been brutally murdered. Unsure where else he can turn, Trecchio contacts Inspector Gabriella Fierro of the Polizia di Stato, a former romantic interest and partner on another Vatican-based investigation two years before. While Trecchio is sure there is something that is being covered-up, Fierro is shackled by her superiors and told not to investigate whatsoever. However, she agrees to meet Trecchio and they commence their own sleuthing, not deterred when they become targets in a high-velocity shootout. Suddenly, a collection of blind children are spontaneously able to see and a group of terminally-ill cancer patients show no signs of disease moments after the Pope speaks publicly of his healing. Pundits the world over are convinced that this ‘stranger’ must have some power, with miracles cropping up since he his initial appearance. One final event, a dead girl coming back to life, divides the world; divine acts or complete hoax? Meanwhile, Global Capital Italia’s CEO, Caterina Amato, sits in her offices, surrounded by a cabal of men who seek to capitalise on all these events, hoping to penetrate deep inside the Vatican to its most vulnerable core. Trecchio and Fierro soon find a link between the miracles and a powerful arm within the Vatican, hoping to unveil it, but Amato will stop at nothing to ensure her plan comes to fruition. As the race to reveal truth becomes central, Fox takes the reader through a fast-pace exploration of the inner workings of the Holy See and attempts to place faith and proof under the proverbial microscope. A fascinating thriller that will pull readers in from the opening pages, Fox delivers and shows his potential as a first-rate writer in the genre.
I love a good Vatican conspiracy thriller, as I mentioned when reviewing Fox’s previous short story. Where there were significant issues with presentation and layout before, this story rectifies that and offers readers something substantial on many levels. Fox takes a strong foundational premise and develops it in numerous ways. The characters are strong, stemming from the two protagonists whose backstory is fleshed out a little more. Working with Trecchio and Vierro, the reader develops a necessary connection, while also remaining piqued by this stranger who appears from nowhere. While it may have a slightly predictable spin, the strong and devious antagonist also helps keep the novel’s pace moving and forces the reader to wonder just how deeply this ‘plan’ runs to infiltrate the Vatican. Fox uses a strong narrative and credible dialogue to propel the story forward, while also honing the short-chapter technique that fits perfectly with the numerous cliffhanger moments embedded throughout. Alongside these ingredients for a great thriller, Fox presents the reader with the inevitable religious/faith spin, while also pushing a ‘seeing the light’ moment, but does so in a relatively tame fashion, keeping those from all (or no) faith bases appeased enough, understanding full-well that the Catholic-centric nature of the discussion is expected. Fox developed a wonderful full-length novel in this story, picking up many of the loose threads left dangling in the prequel. Can he follow this great piece with another winner? We shall soon see, as the sequel (also a short story) is next on my reading list.
Kudos, Mr. Fox for a great book. I am pleased that I gave you a second chance to redeem yourself and show your true colours.