Friday, May 13, 2016

The Fifth Gospel, by Ian Caldwell

It's tempting to view Ian Caldwell's The Fifth Gospel as a Dan Brown knock-off.  That's not really fair. They're in a similar genre--a mystery surrounding ancient texts in a religious setting--but The Fifth Gospel stands on its own.

When a curator of a new exhibit at the Vatican museum is murdered on the grounds of a papal retreat, his close friends, two priests who are brothers, get involved in the mystery.  One is accused of the murder; the other, Father Alex, wants to exonerate his brother.  Add in the subject of the exhibit, the Shroud of Turin and a Fifth Gospel, and motives, controversies, and mysteries will abound, even among the holy confines of Vatican City.

In my opinion the mystery part of The Fifth Gospel really dragged and did not keep me on the edge of my seat.  As Father Alex uncovers clues and hits against walls of silence, my interest was only mildly piqued.  The resolution of it all was a let down.  What really interested me was Caldwell's description of life inside the walls of the Vatican.

Alex grew up in the Vatican and has a young son (as an Eastern Catholic, he can marry).  Living in a place so steeped in history and religion, while doing mundane things like grocery shopping and raising a child, must be strange.  Caldwell portrays it like a small town where everyone knows everyone else, which must not be too far from the truth, as the population is only a few hundred.  Further, the conflict of the story revolves around the schism between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.  As a Greek Eastern Catholic, Alex's allegiance is to Rome, but his tradition is a sort of bridge between the two groups.  At issue is whether the events of the book can reunite the two traditions or further alienate them from one another.

I enjoyed The Fifth Gospel for the elements of religious, historical, cultural, and geographical education.  That is enough reason to like a book.  But it would have been even better if I had really been able to get into the story.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book recommended by a family member

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