In Burson’s (A Partner’s Hidden Life, 2011) latest thriller, wisecracking FBI agent Sean Murphy is back to foil a plot to tear apart the Vatican and the American Roman Catholic Church.
When a new pope is named, Catholics worldwide are concerned that the name he chooses, Peter II, fulfills St. Malachy’s Prophecy of the Popes—and might mean the beginning of the apocalypse. Special Agent Murphy has his doubts. He’s just been assigned to a new counterterrorism unit tasked with identifying the people behind the growing religious unrest in the United States. Murphy’s local parish priest, Lukas Shafer, becomes affiliated with a religious group called The Movement, formed as an alternative to the conservative, politically mired Catholic Church. Murphy investigates the trail of money to and from The Movement to determine who’s pulling its strings and its ultimate aim. But when several fellow agents are murdered, and Murphy and his family become the targets of violence and espionage, things get frighteningly personal. Murphy is a thoroughly likable character, thanks in part to his proclivity for corny humor. Burson’s deft action sequences are well-timed, but his explorations into the history and politics of the church noticeably slow the pace, as do regular interludes in which Murphy deliberates about the case. The easy, realistic prose is occasionally marred by awkward or confusing sentences, as when Murphy, pondering death at a fellow agent’s funeral, thinks, “All that you were was over just like putting one’s hand in a bucket of water and removing it.” Grammatical and punctuation errors abound but generally don’t affect the novel’s smooth flow. Apart from these minor hindrances, Burson provides his readers with a lively, divertingly suspenseful yarn.
An engaging, if occasionally uneven, thriller that will satisfy Burson’s fans and likely entice new readers.