Book Review: The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell

September 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

the-fifth-gospel-9781451694147_hrIan Caldwell’s second novel, after co-authoring the 2004 Sunday Times bestseller The Rule of Four, is The Fifth Gospel. He acknowledges that this novel took just about a decade to research and write, and his patience and meticulous observational skills are evident in each line.

The protagonist, Father Alex Andreou, is a priest from a historical Vatican family – his father was a priest, his brother is a priest, and his uncle holds an elevated role in the hierarchical structure of Catholic priesthood. As a Greek Catholic priest, Alex is allowed to marry, and this has left him with the care of a five-year-old son and a missing wife, who abandoned her family after a bout of post-partum depression.

When his brother Simon is accused of the murder of Ugo Nogara, the curator of an important upcoming exhibition about the Shroud of Turin, Alex finds himself reconstructing the dead curator’s work in order to prove his brother’s innocence.

Caldwell’s characters are memorable and complex, their personalities shaped by the lives they have lead inside and outside the Vatican, and their interactions and relationships feel poignant and organic.

Caldwell weaves his intriguing story through careful slipping between past and present, setting a measured pace that allows the plot to unfold naturally rather than flashily. This novel is about more than just chase scenes and dramatic revelations; it explores the tensions between ancient religious traditions and modern, pragmatic spirituality. It engages with love and responsibility – familial, romantic, friendly and human.

While the novel bursts with fascinating details about everyday life in the Vatican and the Catholic faith, Caldwell does not belabour any religious points, so you won’t need to gird your loins for a devout treatise. He has developed a style of writing that is undeniably elegant and often frankly beautiful, and I found myself re-reading many of the striking lines that he has crafted with both envy and awe.

If you want a novel that combines compelling characters, remarkable mysteries, fascinating facts, and – yes – thrills, then this one’s for you… and it’s delivered in an undeniably intellectual package!

(Published in the Pretoria News, and in the September 2015 issue of Cover to Cover by Exclusive Books.)

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