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by Paul Adams
Warner Books, May 2000
352 pages
ISBN: 1559705205

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In part, this book explores some of the same issues examined in Mark Aarons' book of the same name: how the Vatican facilitated the escape from justice of Nazi war criminals after WWII, but there the resemblance ends. Adam's novel is a thriller. It is not often I can say truthfully that I found a book impossible to put down but, believe me, I had to continue reading this to the end. I tried to relinquish it before the conclusion. I went so far as to remove my specs, put the book beside the bed and lie down. No luck. As the baggier and darker than usual bags beneath my eyes attest, I had to go through to the end. And it is not a mingy 200 pager or less; the text continues to page 470.

I was unable to find out anything about the author, other than what is written on the fly leaf: that he is English, studied law, worked as a journalist in England and Rome and has written three crime novels... the previous of which so far I have been unable to locate.

Don't you love it when an author has lived in the places about which he writes, so that they come alive for you as you read? This book is set in Rome, where Adam worked, and the pictures he conjured in my mind's eye were vivid indeed.

The narrative is, as so much of my recent reading has been, set in two time frames: the war years and the present day. The story begins with the kidnapping and execution of Mussolini and his mistress by partisans. The violence occurring in the present has its roots in the past.

Antonio Vivaldi, the Red Priest (no, not that one, Virginia. This one is not a musician and his politics are responsible for the nickname, not the colour of his hair) is found murdered. The presence of castor oil in his stomach implies that his horribly tortured body is a victim of Neo-Fascists.

Elena Fiorini is the magistrate assigned to investigate the execution and in the course of the inquiry she encounters the initially inimical journalist, Andy Chapman. Circumstances soon dictate that they join forces and pool their resources, which, almost inevitably, leads to a far closer relationship. In fact, this book could well qualify for inclusion in Mystery Guide, Cathy Gallagher's, steamy mysteries classification. Nonetheless, the sex is not gratuitous but essential to the developing plot.

Vivaldi was notoriously a thorn in the side of the Vatican and Elena's and Andy's originally individual quests lead them to an examination of the politics of that city/state. Surely every mystery lover is familiar with the fictional sinister machinations of worldly divines within the Leonine walls of the state within a state. As the tale unfolds the reader becomes perhaps a little too knowledgeable about some of the crimes of the past perpetrated in the name of religion.

As I indicated in my introduction, the pace of the novel is breathtaking... I found myself holding my breath during a great deal of the action. There is a vast amount of violence and certainly a large number of corpses, but the gore is necessary to the plot. The book is not solely dependent on the action for its success, however. The characters are completely believable and we could well put faces that we see on television news to the people depicted. The heroine, Elena, is a woman of strong and incorruptible nature but very human for all that. Andrew Chapman, the journalist, is equally credible, and I found myself wondering if he were based on any journalists known to Adam.

I applaud Warner Books for the total lack (so far as I could see, and I am usually sensitive to their appearance) of subediting lapses. The ultimate accolade I can pay Paul Adam is to say I am now looking to buy his previous novels and anxiously await any he may have forthcoming.

Reviewed by Denise Wels, August 2001

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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