A debut novel examines how a determined individual can use religious tenets to disguise political ambitions.
In this story set in Rome in the near future, the man who must uncover and unravel the Mithras conspiracy is Commissario Marco Leone “of the Polizia di Stato,” one of Italy’s national police forces. Leone must solve the gruesome murder of his childhood friend, a priest attached to the Vatican Library. The priest’s sister, Leone’s former lover, hints that his murder may have something to do with a recently discovered parchment that Cardinal Gustavo Furbone wants buried. Little does Leone realize that this quarrel over a document is but one small part of a plot by wealthy Lucio Piso to resurrect the ancient Mithras religion, which Christianity had overtaken, and install himself as ruler of Italy in a coup. Piso hopes to accomplish this by recruiting converts throughout the government and the Vatican, including Leone’s former right-hand man, a highly placed cardinal, and more officials than anyone would expect. Leone, who doesn’t play well with others, slowly pieces together Piso’s scheme on his own as multiple murders and bombings occur, and he becomes the target of several assassination attempts. The action crescendos in a final showdown with Piso. Polelle has put his passion for Italy to good use in this volume. His numerous trips to the country help inform his colorful descriptions of many landmarks. And his intensive research enables him to ably bring the forgotten religion of Mithras to life. The author also deserves credit for populating his work with many flawed characters. Leone may be anti-social and cynical, but at least he’s honest about his motivation: protecting the country he loves from the conspiracy he unearths. Most of the other players, whether religious or secular, have much less admirable goals, seeking to benefit from a Piso regime in some way. Polelle rewards readers with uncertainty in every chapter. Leone’s Rome is a dangerous place, with a masked attacker around virtually every corner. And that’s what makes it fun to visit.
An enjoyable thriller that should make readers wonder what other parts of Italy the author could creatively mine.