A man and a woman leading a murder investigation discover a dark truth about the Catholic Church in this thriller that . . . oh, you’ve heard this one before?
First published in Spain, Gómez-Jurado’s debut is clearly designed to capitalize on the success of The Da Vinci Code, but it wouldn’t be fair to call it a knockoff. There’s almost no code-cracking (the one instance of cryptology reads like a joking acknowledgment of the author’s key inspiration), and instead of focusing on millennia-old theology, its plot revolves around more contemporary concerns about pedophile priests. Shortly after the death of Pope John Paul II, detective Paola Dicanti is called to the Vatican to investigate the gruesome murder of a cardinal. Two more cardinals are found dead in a similar manner soon after, and with more than 100 cardinals set to arrive to elect the next pope, she’s under serious pressure to both find the serial killer and keep the murders under wraps. Luckily, she has her top-flight Quantico training on her side, as well as the assistance of Father Anthony Fowler, a former CIA agent and counselor at the Catholic Church’s semi-secret rehab facility for priests with histories of sexual abuse. Fowler identifies the likely killer as Victor Karosky, a priest who transcended his own history of abuse by self-righteously offing high-ranking liberal Catholics. Letting the reader know the murderer’s identity early doesn’t lessen the drama, but it does leave more room for Gómez-Jurado’s unsophisticated pop-psych ruminations about what makes a pedophile priest, a silly subplot about a freelance journalist who threatens to break the story wide open and an unconvincing attempt to build a love story out of Dicanti and Fowler’s relationship. The climax has the requisite tension, but the characters are ultimately so weakly drawn that it’s hard to believe that the future of an entire faith is at stake.
Ambitious, but never for a moment inspiring.