Exodus (Dominus #2), by Tom Fox

Eight stars

After a stunning thriller in the form of DOMINUS, Fox returns to continue the series with this short story, whose plot commences two months after the previous novel’s conclusion. Embroiled in the most graphic and disturbing nightmare of his life, Alexander Trecchio wakes to discover he is home, but unsure how he made it there. Employed again as a journalist, Trecchio has been burning the midnight oil after the sensational and highly disturbing events inside the Vatican. This nightmare, though murky, had vivid symbols that leave Trecchio unsure how to process them. When a call comes from a trusted friend within the Vatican Museums, Trecchio agrees to meet him on site. Arriving at the Holy See, Trecchio receives access to the Sistene Chapel, desecrated with blood and symbols, things Trecchio can trace back to his nightmare. As Trecchio is able to foretell other events yet to occur, the Swiss Guard place him under arrest for terrorism and soon murder, after the body of a woman is found deeper in the Museums. With no clear motive or suspects, officials have only a single slip of paper with which to work, emblazoned with the word REVENGE. Who could be seeking retribution on the Vatican with complete access to the grounds and how does Alexander Trecchio sit into this larger narrative? Fox weaves through a biblical undertone as he progresses the story against the backdrop of a bomb, waiting to explode inside the Vatican, its timer slowly ticking downward. A brilliant follow-up to his thriller, Fox has found his niche, though the series could hang in the balance with an epic cliffhanger.

Some who may have read my earlier review of Fox’s first short story in the series (Genesis) will remember that I criticised the author for flipping between the present and past as the story progressed. Here, Fox seems to have learned to hone the skill and utilise it to thicken the plot rather than confuse the reader. The story is layered primarily with a set of events perpetrated by a man seeking some form of retribution or revenge on the Vatican and its hierarchy, offset with the present exploration of these events and discoveries of the sinister plot. Peppered throughout is a philosophical viewpoint on sleep and life from the perspective of Alexander Trecchio, the story’s protagonist. As mentioned above, after the scarring events inside the Vatican two months before, Trecchio is left to sift through the ashes of his memories and rebuild his own personal strength. However, someone seeks to begin their own Exodus away from the Vatican, perhaps paralleling the journey series fans know Trecchio himself took when he abandoned the priesthood. Fox uses strong characters to construct this tight short story and a plot that gains momentum with each passing (brief) chapter. It would seem as though Fox has learned from stumbling out of the block with Genesis on how to construct a strong story and lure readers in from the get-go. While one could likely read this story independently, some of the subtleties found in the previous two pieces, specifically DOMINUS, would certainly accentuate the character connection required to fully understand some of the backstory nuances Fox lays throughout the narrative.

Kudos, Mr. Fox for another wonderful piece of writing. I am eager to see if your cliffhanger has resolution or if fans will be pulled into a new set of characters when next you grace us with your work.