Of Bread and Wine, by Edward Izzi

Eight stars

After steamrolling my way through two of his other books, I was eager to find Edward Izzi’s debut novel, which was just as enthralling and full of narrative treats. When an American monseigneur is sent to give the last rites to a controversial cardinal, the deathbed confession yields more than he could have suspected. Michael Prescott learns of this confession from his dear friend and is asked to investigate some of the allegations made in the confession, which surrounds news that Pope John Paul I did not die naturally, but was murdered by those in the Vatican’s inner circle. While Prescott is in Rome, he encounters a journalist with the Washington Post, one Sienna DiVito, whose vacation to see her father after many years is interrupted when she is told to write about the news coming from the Vatican. While they work together, Prescott learns that Sienna’s father was once the head of Vatican security and has intimate knowledge about what happened to ‘the Smiling Pope’, as well as those who might have ordered the murder. Thickening the plot, a set of three valuable coins was given to the pope the night before he was found dead, but which disappeared the following day. Ties to the mafia are rampant and Prescott discovers that Vatican ruthlessness is second only to those of the Mafioso, with both groups keen on keeping their secrets from boiling over. Was Pope John Paul I’s death less than innocent, as the rumours have been building over four decades? Who was responsible for the killing and what reasons led to the act? Might these coins be at the centre of it all? All this and more come to the surface throughout Edward Izzi’s debut novel that stuns the reader will its revelations. Recommended to those who love a good thriller with strong Catholic undertones, as well as the reader who enjoys a fast moving narrative.

I stumbled upon Edward Izzi’s work the other week and have not been able to stop reading them. The detail Izzi puts into his work serves to shape the narrative in many wonderful ways. Michael Prescott, whose legal background serves him well in this novel—and a few other occasions in the subsequent pieces—is a great protagonist, seeking to find truths where others try to shield them. Prescott is determined to get to the core of the matter, even if it pushes him towards dangerous outcomes. When he finds himself tempted by Sienna, Prescott does not let anything derail his focus, but uses it as a fuel to forge onwards. Others serve as key characters throughout the piece, dabbling into the various aspects of the narrative, from Vatican officials, to mafia hit men and even those with journalistic capabilities. Izzi chooses well with these characters, helping to shape the narrative and tie in the tangential nature of the plot. The story is strong, building on a long-held belief that the death of Pope John Paul I was anything but natural. With no autopsy or other medical tests, no substantive proof has ever been unearthed about how the pontiff’s reign actually ended after 33 days in 1978. However, with this deathbed confession, Izzi resurrects the gossip and injects his own spin, sure to keep the reader hooked until the final reveal. Short chapters help keep the momentum up in this book and the reader will easily find themselves wanting more. A blend of Catholic politics and mafia enforcement, Izzi keeps the thrills high and has the reader begging for more.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another captivating piece with strong Vatican and mafia themes. I have you on my radar and really hope you have more ideas to come in the coming years!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons