The young Englishman Ben has come to Rome as a noviciate priest. He studies at the renowned university Gregoriana and lives in a seminary. His roommate so-to-speak - they share the bathroom between their respective rooms - is Adam, a charismatic Scot, a bit older than Ben. One day Adam is found dead, "An accident," is what everyone utters in public, "He's fallen off the roof while watching the stars at night." "Suicide", is what everyone thinks, however.
"Murder," comes to Ben's mind when he hears a nocturnal visitor in Ben's room after the funeral tapping on the latter's computer. Then he finds three discs taped underneath a shelf in his wardrobe full of the most mysterious texts which obviously occupied Adam before his death, and he vows to get to the heart of the matter.
I was dumbfounded when the content of the discs was presented, they deal with the Apparition of Our Lady of Fatima and the third secret she's told the three shepherd children she appeared to. It's so horrible that the last surviving child, now a nun, refused for years to reveal it.
What do I care? I'm not a Catholic and places of pilgrimage like Lourdes, Medjugorje and Fatima interest me as much as the proverbial bag of rice toppling over in China. But then I realised that the author has cleverly put readers like me on the same side as Ben, he's also dumbfounded. "Weird. Fatima is uncool among church intellectuals of today" is what he thinks. His research and probing lead him to the insight, however, that there's a group of high-ranking Catholics believing in the advent of the Antichrist, or Spoiler as he's also called, at the beginning of the new millennium. They're convinced that he'll show himself in Rome in the shape of the first baby boy born after midnight on 25th December.
Ben is not an intellectual like Adam was, he isn't even very intelligent, but he's clever enough to realise that he's in danger if he finds out too much and reacts on his findings. After all, Adam found his death this way. Can Ben get to the bottom of the mystery, find this baby and save its life?
A dark and gripping thriller evolves. A critic has called the novel 'A Da Vinci Code for grown-ups'. I haven't read this novel but enough about it to understand that this remark is meant as a compliment.
Getting to the heart of the matter, i.e., understanding why Adam had to die, is not the only subject the novel deals with. By studying and learning what Catholics are capable of doing in the name of faith Ben's own faith, not yet fully fortified, starts faltering. When he's through with unravelling the mystery, will he be able to go on with his studies as before? Will he ever become a priest at all?
By occupying himself with Adam's death Ben naturally occupies himself with Adam, the person, as well, more than he did when Adam was still alive. He asks himself what kind of relationship they really had. Once he calls himself 'Adam's groupie'. It's clear that he relationship had a homoerotic undertone, however, it remained platonic. Right at the beginning of their acquaintance Adam tells him, "I'm not a homosexual, at least not so as you'd notice."
How does Ben cope with his sexual desires at all? Is working out regularly at the nearby American college the solution? Together with another seminarist he's sent to a soup kitchen for the underdogs and the scum of Rome where he develops a crush on a young woman, a drug addict, as stray as her dog. Will this affair remain platonic, too?
In the beginning we get to read some of the letters Ben writes to his mother telling her about his first impressions of Rome and his studies. But they soon stop and what follows is a kind of diary written on the advice of Dr Macpherson, his psychiatrist, dubbed McShrink by Ben. "The writing cure works, you know". He hopes that Ben's troubled mind can calm down when he has to put the things that happened down on paper in a chronological order. The tone is conversational and we have the feeling that Ben is addressing us directly. This is well done and draws us into Ben's story.
Nothing much is made of the Gregoriana which I found a pity because a relative of mine used to teach there and I'd have liked to learn something about this university. But nothing much is made of the city of Rome, either, the novel concentrates on the murder of Adam who got too near to the unravelling of the mystery of the coming Antichrist and Ben's attempts to make the last step for him without getting killed, too.
If you like such stories but don't want to read the 605 pages of The Da Vinci Code, choose Spoiler instead which has only 224 fast-paced pages and doesn't insult your intelligence.
RRP 7.99 GBP
I can also recommend the novels Letter to Lorenzo and Capri File by the same author (see my reviews).