Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Fifth Gospel

Book Review : The Fifth Gospel
Author : Ian Caldwell
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

After reading the blurb on the cover of “The Fifth Gospel”, it’s very natural to think of “The Da Vinci Code", or “Angels and Demons”. A Vatican murder mystery involving an artifact from Christian history, has to remind us of Dan Brown’s novels. That would be a wrong expectation to set, as Ian Caldwell’s sophomore effort is at the diagonally opposite corner.

The story is told to us in the voice of Father Alex Andreou, a Greek priest who grew up in Vatican. Right at the beginning of the story, he gets a call from his brother, Father Simon, that their mutual friend Uno has been shot. Uno was a curator at the Vatican Museum, and was going to open a new exhibit in a few days. That exhibit, about the “Shroud Of Turin” and its relation to the so called “Fifth Gospel” was expected to have a profound impact on the relations of Vatican with Orthodox Christians. With so much at stake, such a project was receiving both support and opposition from different powerful forces within the Vatican. Father Simon is put on a trial for killing Uno, but he decides to remain silent and not defend himself. The rest of the book follows this trial, what did Uno discover that put his life in danger, and the mystery of who killed Uno.

There are clear similarities between this plot and “The Da Vinci Code”. But the treatment is very different. Dan Brown wrote a page turner with a controversial interpretation of history. Here, Father Alex is a very simple man, for whom family comes first. He is a bit too sentimental in my opinion, but I understand why that’s the case. All other characters are very well drawn, and most are likeable. There is a lot of focus on feelings and relationships. The phrasing is literary in places. There are lots of details about the Vatican, and especially its legal system. There is some puzzle solving and interesting investigation of history too. Overall, the story feels lot real, and the reader is bound to empathize for Father Alex.

I learned a lot about the history of relationship between Catholic and Orthodox segments of Christianity, and the differences between the gospels. The details about internal workings of Vatican were interesting too.

The book does feel dragged at places. The mystery aspects works well, but the intermediary surprises are often unexciting. For example a chapter would end with you wanting to know more, but when the surprise is revealed, it’s a “duh” moment. I cannot elaborate on this without giving any spoilers, but you would understand what I mean, when you read the book.

I definitely recommend this book if you set your expectations right. This is a medium paced, uncontroversial and sincere book. It aims to educate, as well as entertain with a believable mystery.

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