Short Takes: Book reviews in brief

“The Fifth Gospel.”
“The Fifth Gospel.”


The Assassin

Clive Cussler and Justin Scott, G.P Putnam’s Sons, 416 pages

It’s 1905, and Standard Oil has a monopoly on the refinery business. John D. Rockefeller’s company has been stamping out any competition that gets in the way of its profit margin. Detective Isaac Bell and his team want to investigate. A witness with damaging information is shot and killed by a sniper, and soon others who oppose the company become targets. Bell struggles to stay one step ahead of a deadly assassin who seems to have insider access to his plans. This killer will stop at nothing, even it means taking out the entire Van Dorn detective agency.

The Isaac Bell series is a fun jaunt into America’s past, and the books are a wonderful examination of life in the early 20th century. Without reliance on technology and fast access to information, the seemingly impossible case seems even more difficult to solve. Though the identity of the assassin is obvious, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the tale.

The Fifth Gospel

Ian Caldwell, Simon & Schuster, 448 pages

The curator of a groundbreaking exhibit at the Vatican dies mysteriously hours before its premiere. Within hours, his research partner’s family becomes victim to a home invasion. Ian Caldwell’s second novel kicks off at 90 mph and doesn’t slow down. His skill as a writer is evident in his ability to weave detailed descriptions of biblical scripture, Catholic history and Vatican geography into the story while keeping the action going.

This tale is set in the waning years of John Paul II’s papacy. The protagonist is Father Alex Andreou, a Greek Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican with his 5-year-old son. The suspect in the curator’s death is Andreou’s brother, Simon, a Roman Catholic priest rising rapidly through the Vatican’s diplomatic ranks.

Greek Catholics observe traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church while obeying the Roman Catholic pope. Unlike the Roman Catholic priests with whom they serve, Greek Catholic priests can marry and have families. As Alex Andreou works to clear his brother of their friend’s murder, he learns that information crucial to bringing the churches together – or keeping them apart – could lie in a fifth gospel the curator discovered in the bowels of the Vatican library. The question is: Who would kill to keep it secret?

Andreou must retrace Catholic history and unravel convoluted scripture to solve the mystery. But Caldwell’s novel is more than a religious dissertation. He has created memorable characters with complex relationships, deep love and longstanding hurts. Ultimately, this is a novel about faith – in God and in family. It ends as every Christian story does, with an act of forgiveness.

Associated Press