It takes literary guts for a first-time novelist to set his tale of bloody murder against the backdrop of the death of as beloved a pope as John Paul II, but that is exactly what young Juan Gomez-Jurado has done. You certainly can't argue with the book's success, either, as it has already attained bestseller status in Europe and Latin America. I believe something has been lost in James Graham's English translation of the original Spanish novel, but God's Spy is still a riveting, unorthodox thriller that holds nothing back in its account of a maniacal priest targeting prominent cardinals for obscene torture and murder - and one Italian investigator's torturous, continually restricted mission to stop him.
Murder just doesn't happen in Vatican City, yet Detective Paola Dicanti can't deny the obvious as she gazes down on what is left of a body found murdered upon the altar of the Church of Santa Maria. I won't go into details, but I will tell you they are grisly, enough to make Jack the Ripper glance away. Things only get worse when she discovers the dead man is a prominent cardinal, one of the men who would soon be choosing a new pope to replace the just-deceased John Paul II. In one way, it's just the kind of case Paola has been longing for, one that finally gives her a chance to put her FBI profiling training to use. In every other way, though, it's a nightmare. While nominally in charge, she is compelled to work with Vatican authorities whose determination to keep everything secret makes them a hindrance as much of a help. As the best example of this, Paola is furious to discover that another murder preceded this one - with all evidence, including the body of the dead cardinal, destroyed by the Vatican. On top of all this, the investigative team grows a third head with the arrival of an American priest and former Army intelligence officer. Father Fowler does come with critical information, at least - namely, the identity of the killer. Already, you can see how God's Spy differs from your conventional murder mystery thriller. Paola doesn't have the resources or stature to go Dirty Harry on anybody, the murderer's identity is established early on, and the investigative process consists of a great deal of internal bickering between parties with their own separate interests.
With the killer targeting important cardinals of the impending papal conclave, he must be stopped at all costs - but without the knowledge of the cardinals or, heaven forbid, the tens of thousands of mourners descending upon the city to pay their respects to John Paul II. Those kinds of conditions put Paola in an extremely difficult position. As for the killer, he is one wily devil, that's for sure, as he manages to kill and kill again before slipping away into thin air. On numerous occasions, though, the working relationships of the investigators take on even more interest than the investigation itself, especially when it comes to the uncomfortable working dynamics between the Vatican ecclesiastical authorities, the Vatican police, the Italian police, and whoever Father Fowler actually works for. The murderer isn't the only character keeping secrets over the course of this grisly saga.
God's Spy remains at all times an intriguing, surprisingly in-your-face mystery thriller, featuring a steady dose of adrenaline-packed action and a surprising amount of gore courtesy of the sadistic killer. Knowing the identity of the killer takes nothing away from the mystery, as unanswered questions dot the landscape of the investigation and Gomez-Jurado delivers a number of fairly significant surprises in the book's final pages. As I mentioned earlier, though, I do feel something was lost in the translation from Spanish to English. Some of the sentences read rather awkwardly, and I can't help but wonder if some of the language used by certain characters is accurate or just a product of the translation. If you are fluent in Spanish, I would definitely recommend you pick up a copy of the book in its original form. I also had some trouble telling some of the minor characters apart, largely because their Italian names made it difficult for me to tie names and characters together. Clearly, that little problem is entirely on me, but I would be remiss not to mention it.
Certainly, however, I would recommend this novel to all mystery lovers. In terms of authorial audacity alone, it's worth a look, but the amazing thing is that the author totally delivers the goods. God's Spy is an extremely impressive debut from an author poised to completely skip the ranks of the up-and-coming to claim a seat among the well-established writers of the genre.