Review

God's Spy

by Juan Gomez-Jurado

The
premise of GOD'S SPY, Juan Gomez-Jurado's debut novel, is
electrifying. Set in 2005, beginning at the moment of the death of
Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church
gather in Vatican City to elect a new Pope. Two of them are
murdered almost immediately. Paola Dicanti, an Italian police
inspector and profiler, is assigned to the investigation. She finds
herself working reluctantly with, and occasionally against, the
Santa Alianza, the Vatican's equivalent of the Secret
Service.

Things take an even more dramatic turn with the appearance of
Father Anthony Fowler, an enigmatic American priest with a
background in Army intelligence and a history with the killer, who
is quickly revealed to be Victor Karosky. It turns out that Fowler
had encountered Karosky years before while investigating St.
Matthew's Institute in Maryland, a facility utilizing a
controversial method for the treatment of pederast clergy. Karosky
was one of the patients there, and Fowler's interviews with him
continue to haunt Fowler's memory. When someone close to Dicanti is
killed by the same individual, it becomes personal --- both for her
and the murderer.

The resultant cat-and-mouse pursuit is a heartstopper, using
Vatican City, the gathering of the Cardinals and the massive influx
of the faithful mourning the deceased Pope to create a tense,
electrifying and claustrophobic atmosphere. The investigation is
made more difficult by the abrasive relationship between the
Italian and Vatican police officials, whose overlapping
jurisdictions cause some hostility, and the slow-cooking,
uncomfortable and almost irresistible sexual tension between Fowler
and Dicanti. It is Karosky, however, who is the perfect villain of
the piece, a socially irredeemable monster who seems bent on
nothing less than the destruction of the Church hierarchy and who,
despite the best efforts of his worthy adversaries, appears
unstoppable.

The controversy swirling around GOD'S SPY has multiple origins, not
the least of which is the scandal involving the concealment of the
molestation of children by Catholic clergy. St. Matthew's
Institute, a prominent element of the book, has a real-world model,
and its depiction here hits too close to home for some. The author
is not pandering --- Karosky's pederasty and how it came to be are
central elements in his psychological composition --- but the
descriptions of Karosky's childhood are every bit as horrific as
the manner of the executions he performs on others.

That having been said, Gomez-Jurado overreaches himself just a bit
near the conclusion. Vociferous readers of the genre will guess one
of the erstwhile surprises revealed in the denouement (we can be
fooled once but not twice), and a half-hearted attempt to somehow
tie the Bush administration into the proceedings is so weak and
laughable that only a Michael Moore enthusiast would find it
credible. Indeed, by the end of the novel, the author himself seems
to tire of the stretch and abandons it.

But these are minor quibbles, as GOD'S SPY is a wild, compelling
ride full of characters you really want to care about. And good
news: if the enigmatic final few pages of this work are any
indication, some of these individuals could end up returning for
another go-round. Let's hope so.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

God's Spy
by Juan Gomez-Jurado

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0525949941
  • ISBN-13: 9780525949947