When Dan Brown released his classic world-wide bestsellers ANGELS & DEMONS and THE DA VINCI CODE, he kick-started a genre that has always existed but was in dire need of a transfusion: historical fiction. You can even go so far as to call it “speculative” fiction as some of the best writers working today --- Brown, Steve Berry, James Rollins, Brad Thor, etc. --- have taken this well-researched and exciting genre to the next level.
You can now add the name “Sam Christer” to this growing list of writers, as his novel, THE VENICE CONSPIRACY, follows the same formula that has made the other aforementioned authors household names. Like many novels in this genre, the action does not take place solely in present times. Being driven by history and dark secrets of the long past, the book deftly bounces between modern times and a time long before the birth of Jesus Christ --- 666 B.C.
"With the fine job [Sam Christer] has done on THE VENICE CONSPIRACY --- a well-researched and suspenseful thrill-ride of a novel --- we hopefully will see more from him, regardless of what pen name he opts for."
THE VENICE CONSPIRACY opens with a brutal three-on-one attack of a woman in Compton, Los Angeles, by local gang members, which is thwarted by a man named Tom Shaman, a local priest. Fortunately, Tom knows how to handle himself physically and ends up killing two of the gang members during the skirmish. This altercation, along with some other internal challenges he has been battling, forces Tom to step away from the priesthood and seek a new path. An elderly woman he had been visiting passes away, and among her belongings is a postcard from Venice depicting an interesting painting on its cover. This seems like an omen that he should start his new life by traveling the world, and he begins by setting off for a vacation in Venice.
The narrative then jumps back to 666 B.C. --- a date that will make more sense as you read on --- in the Northern Etruscan region of Italy. Ironically, a once-gifted priest and sometime fortune-teller named Teucer comes upon his wife, Tetia, being attacked and raped by two men. He kills the rapist but will soon realize that this was no mere mortal who had harmed his wife. The seed that was literally planted could make for an ancient retelling of Ira Levin’s ROSEMARY’S BABY.
Meanwhile, back in modern-day Venice, Tom’s visit does not allow for much carefree vacation downtime as he almost immediately finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation. He helps a local fisherman drag the body of a young woman out the canal; she has been tortured and her body ends up having 666 cuts on it. Tom offers his services to the local Carabinieri team investigating the murder and he hits it off with the team of Vito Carvalho and Valentina Morassi. They all recognize that this ritualistic killing may not be the last and that they are dealing with something much darker than a mere serial killer.
The answer to the puzzle lies in the past. The satanic-style killings and evidence of black masses in the present play directly into the events that began with Teucer and Tetia back in 666 B.C. Tetia, while carrying the offspring of the man who raped her, creates a clay mold of a three-part portrait that comes to be known over the centuries as the Gates of Hell. It is the third and final part of this series of portraits that the Catholic Church and the Vatican have sought to keep buried. Tom and the Venice investigative team recognize that this secret may have been unleashed and the ritualistic killings may be just the beginning of a much darker conspiracy that could threaten us all.
Sam Christer is a pseudonym for British journalist and television producer Michael Morley, who also has written as “Jon Trace.” With the fine job he has done on THE VENICE CONSPIRACY --- a well-researched and suspenseful thrill-ride of a novel --- we hopefully will see more from him, regardless of what pen name he opts for.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 16, 2012