In O’Connor’s (The Twilight of the Day, 2001, etc.) thriller, a retired FBI agent foils a Vatican takeover with roots in a WWII maneuver orchestrated by Ian Fleming and Winston Churchill.
Retired agent Justin Scott—introduced in The Seventh Seal (2005)—arrives at an airport in Rome during a strange terrorist shootout. One of these mysterious figures muses to herself: “Szuros, you always insisted Winston Churchill had done something long ago which would one day compel Moscow to declare war on the Holy See, yet we all chose to dismiss that warning. What happened here moments ago proves you were right all along, and now the world is about to reap a terrible whirlwind.” The novel then shifts to London in 1940. Lt. Cmdr. Ian Fleming suggests to Winston Churchill that they forge a letter from Sister Lucia, the Virgin of Fatima, who, in real life, claims to have had visions of the Virgin Mary as a child; her “letter” will be used to convince Hitler to invade Russia instead of England. Dr. Margaret Smalling is dispatched with newly invented penicillin to cure the ailing virgin and bring back handwriting samples. Cut back to Scott, a retired FBI agent who has done previous work for clergy. He’s being briefed by Cardinal Kettering, to whom Scott’s longtime friend Monsignor Jack O’Bryan reports, about some puzzling messages from Russia. Soon, various religious leaders are being killed or abducted, and the pope calls for an emergency meeting of cardinals in Rome. Scott is also made privy to the last letter of Fatima, which hints at the world’s end or at least the church’s toppling by Russian forces. As Scott tracks down various antagonists, a possible nuclear bomb threat hovers over the convening clergy. Author O’Connor, a retired USAF colonel, has written a nifty if overly ambitious thriller that brings up a surfeit of interesting threads—Dr. Smalling’s mission, the conspiratorial survival of the grand duchess of Russia, etc.—that don’t have ample time to fully develop. Still, O’Connor holds reader interest with his breakneck plot and some particularly charming characterizations, especially in the banter between Scott and O’Bryan. The end result fits nicely in the Tom Clancy–meets–Dan Brown canon.
Fun if dizzying mashup of history and thrills.