The Vatican’s Last Secret, by Francis Joseph Smith

Six stars

With this historical thriller, Francis Joseph Smith pulls the reader into the middle of a dramatic plot that melds the Nazis with key figures within the Vatican during the waning days of the Second World War. With the end of the War all but done, a group of key Nazis load up as much of their riches as possible. Travelling off the Allies’ radar, a long procession of train cars seek to make it to safety, with the riches out of the hands of the victors. When the Allies catch up to the cache, some of it is missing and the presumptive claim is that the Vatican is holding onto it, something the Holy See denies, but never substantiates. Moving to the present day, an elderly former Nazi tells his son of another hidden cache that sits in rural Germany and should be collected before others note its whereabouts. Soon thereafter, two men begin the trek to find it, while higher-ups in the Vatican also seek to get their hands on the riches, while remaining coy about their interest. In a story that flashes back to wartime Europe, the narrative shows that someone within the Vatican wants to silence any chance of a smear campaign, while also amassing additional riches for its own coffers. Blood shed at the hand of protecting the Holy See may be fully justified by some, but the secrets being protected could never be publicly understood or accepted. The race is on to find this last collection of riches and to uncover the Vatican’s darkest secret tied to the Second World War. An interesting piece with a strong premise, but whose momentum dwindled at times. Those who like thrillers and can handle highly tangential storylines, this book may be for you.

The cover and premise of the book caught me from the outset, though I will admit that the deeper I got into the book, the less enthralled I became. There are many subplots to keep the narrative moving forward, though they get muddled and diluted with all the action. In a story that is so long, one must hope the author can keep building the momentum, rather than have it inch along that the aforementioned train cars full of riches. The variety of characters add some flavour to the story, though there was an obvious need for a tighter connection between reader and characters on the page, which may have helped propel the story forward. The historical premise was quite interesting, particularly the race to uncover (or cover-up) the truth about the riches and the Vatican’s connection, but things just lasted too long. Smith does well to splice in current and flashback chapters, which substantiate the narrative foundation, but I became lost after a time and simply sought a resolution. What could have been a stellar thriller that left readers wondering just how much Vatican officials would deny turned a little lugubrious and needed a kick in the literary posterior. Then again, maybe it’s just me… but other reviews will shed light on it.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for a valiant effort. I wonder if the story could/should have been split into a duology or trilogy… or editors done better work tightening it up. Premise was there and I could surely see potential.

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