The Vivaldi Cipher, by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Gary McAvoy for providing me with a copy of this novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Gary McAvoy returns to continue building on his previous series, though the shift away from all things Magdalene has not lessened the impact of the writing. There is still a great deal to discover in the secret archives of the Vatican and who better to bring them to light than Father Michael Dominic. It was during the election of the new pontiff in the mid-18th century that famed violinist Antonio Vivaldi came to learn a dreadful secret, one that could scandalize the Holy See for centuries. Using his skills in musical composition, Vivaldi hid a message in his music, hoping that it would be found and those responsible revealed. Today, Father Dominic comes upon one of these compositions and enlists some help to crack the code. Soon, a long-held secret that will surely tarnish the Vatican comes to light. However, its revelation comes at a price, specifically the ire of a powerful branch of the Italian mob. Dominic will have to stay one step ahead of these ruthless men to ensure the truth is revealed, but staying alive may be a larger concern.

While many would expect the election of a new pope to be a wonderful thing, the papal concave of 1740 held more problems than simply who would be the best candidate. Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, the obvious front-runner is poisoned, holding onto the knowledge of something sinister. He confesses to Antonio Vivaldi, the famed violinist of the times, on his deathbed. Worried that his own life could be in danger, but refusing to sit on the secret, Vivaldi weaves a cipher into some of his manuscripts, in hopes that someone will learn the truth about the artwork scattered throughout the Vatican collection before it is too late.

In present day, a priest takes a confession of a dying mafia don, one who has chilling news about the Vatican’s art collection. This stirs up some curiosity, which is furthered when curator of the Vatican’s Secret Archives, Father Michael Dominic, stumbles upon one of the Vivaldi compositions. With the help of Hana Sinclair, a sharp-witted journalist, and a famed cryptologist, Dr. Livia Gallo, they all learn the message Vivaldi wished to broadcast. It would seem much of the artwork within the Holy See is forged and a powerful mafia organization, Camorra, continues to run the ring to this day.

Dominic, Sinclair and Gallo slowly uncover the truth, which leads them to one of Vivaldi’s descendants, Contessa Donatella Vivaldi herself. While visiting the woman in Venice, much is revealed and truths begin to emerge. However, this is only the beginning, as Camorra cannot have their operation foiled or the truth about the secret come to light. It’s been running smoothly for centuries and some meddlesome priest will not halt the lucrative business because he wants to ‘do right’ with his employer.

Dominic and Sinclair enlist the help of their friends in the Swiss Guard to delve deeper and uncover those responsible. This is no small feat and it’s soon discovered that with such secrets come battles to the death. As Dominic pushes ahead, his mettle is tested, particularly when Hana is captured and assured she will die. While most of the art world is none the wiser, Father Dominic must risk it all for the woman who is a friend and a truth that must come out! McAvoy picks up just where his past series ended with this chilling piece that I could not put down, no matter what obstacles tried to find their way in my path.

It was just last summer that I discovered the work of Gary McAvoy and I have not been able to say enough about him since. Using a backdrop of the Vatican, McAvoy pens a wonderful series of thrillers that push mysteries beyond what most writers would concoct and keeps the reader guessing until the end. Use of two forms of art in this piece make for added thrills in a book that tries to serve as a standalone, but is also wonderfully complements McAvoy’s past trilogy. I cannot get enough of these books, as my binge reading has proven repeatedly.

The Dominic-Sinclair connection is back and both play wonderful protagonists again. They work together well, while complementing one another in numerous ways. McAvoy avoids more backstory for them, choosing instead to push these two deeper into their roles as sleuths who seek answers amongst the dust-landed documents inside the Secret Archives. There is surely a damsel in distress portion, but it’s not because Sinclair is weak or helpless. Rather, the ruthless group knows just how to find Dominic’s Achilles heel, even if he is not yet ready to admit it.

As with each of the three previous books, those who grace the pages of the book both complement and accentuate the protagonists. There are a number of great repeat characters whose supporting role cannot be overlooked. Alongside those names and faces series fans know well are the darker characters, those who wish nothing more than to flex their muscle and show that they will do whatever it takes to see secrets kept and lives sacrificed for the caused. McAvoy does a great job contrasting the good and evil, without the need for salacious killing or language.

As I read the book, I could not help but wonder if this could be the continuation of the past series. It flows so well and keeps the same pace I found in each of the Magdalene thrillers, but seeks to branch out a little. Father Dominic is back in the limelight and using his vocation to bring new adventures to light, even if they are filled with danger. McAvoy concocts a wonderful thriller with a powerful narrative push that is like few books I have seen before. Short chapters and clipped dialogue keep the reader pushing ahead, fuelled by a plot that is full of twists at every turn. I could not stop reading and found myself bingeing just to get through this book, more out of addiction to the story than anything else. Those who have yet to discover Gary McAvoy ought to begin with his Magdalene trilogy, though I suppose this could serve as a standalone (but why would you want to shortchanged yourself?). I cannot wait to see what’s next, as I will be first in queue to get my hands on it.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another winner. You sure know how to spin a tale, with equal parts mystery and historical possibility.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: