After a successful trilogy that encapsulated some interesting Vatican happenings, Tom Fox is back with this captivating novel that seeks to shake religion to its core once again. Something was surely wrong when the Tiber River began to run blood red. This was only exacerbated when gunmen opened fire in crowds across Rome, leaving many dead. Dr. Ben Verdyx, employed in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, is taken from the street, unsure what his captors have in mind. Dr. Angelina Calla, a tour guide in the city, is also taken, from another part of the city, and ushered off to the same mysterious location. It is only when they come face to face that their past connection becomes apparent. Calla was a doctoral student whose expertise in Akkadian, a dead language from Babylonia, and Verdyx is fluent as well, perhaps the only two who can help with the current conundrum that has hit the news. Swiss Guards have been sent to keep Calla and Verdyx contained as a mysterious tablet has been unearthed. Written entirely in Akkadian, the tablet speaks of a number of prophecies set to befall the area, the first of which is the river of blood. While Calla seeks to parse through the rest of the message, she becomes aware that Verdyx seems less surprised by the message. Might he have something to do with all of these goings-on? Meanwhile, the narrative explores a group of men, headed by a Belgian tough-guy, who seem to be plotting a way to bring attention to the vulnerability of the Church and susceptible aspects of the general public. Working together, they may be able to meet their final goal in short order, as long as nothing goes awry. With each hour, more of the prophecies comes to pass, leaving Calla and Verdyx to wonder if the seventh, and ultimate, prophecy will occur, which forebodes great evil. Fox pulls on his vast knowledge of the Vatican and surrounding area to fan the flames and add an element of suspense. Crime thriller lovers who can stomach some religious intrigue will surely enjoy this, particularly if they have raved about Fox’s previous series.
There is nothing like reading a book that seeks to poke even more holes into what has become a teetering foundation. While I respect much of the Catholic Church, many of its solemn aspects have taken a beating, as well as its secrecy. Fox seeks to dispel them and add his own mocking undertone, though respectfully. Calla and Verdyx prove to be two interesting, and yet different, characters. Fox does offer some backstory to them both, revealed at different times in the novel. The Akkadian connection is surely the primary aspect that ties them, but it is their teamwork that seems to work well. I hoped Fox would not turn things too sugary and find that the time they spend together turns romantic and therefore becomes a hero story. The reader can decide what they think about this as the chapters flow. The secondary characters, specifically those who have an ulterior motive, prove to be decent, though I glossed over much of their storyline, finding it weak and less than compelling. The evildoers need not be cackling in the background, but I like to see some bloodthirstiness or diabolical endgame. I found things a little too predictable for me. The story has interesting aspects, though I felt it a little clunky as well. Without giving away too much, while I enjoyed the tablet and prophecies, revealed only by those who can speak this ancient and long-dead language, the flip side left me feeling that things were a little too cat and mouse. Fox has a great premise here and could surely have worked hard to foster a stronger connection with the race to reveal (with his two experts), but it seemed to be more a ‘wait and see, then panic’ situation than ‘try to stop it beforehand’. Again, perhaps I am being overly critical, but I felt the story kept me interested just more than superficially, devoured more because Fox can write and propel things than the content. Will Vatican conspiracists rush to read this book and enjoy the outcome? Perhaps, but I think it is more a social commentary on the direction of religious trust and faith in this time of individual thought. Could a series of plagues be awaiting those who do not trust entirely in the Church? I suppose only time will tell!
Kudos, Mr. Fox, for this entertaining piece. I will surely read more that you write, when that day comes. I like your enthusiasm for all things Vatican and your style does hold a certain allure.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons