God's Spy is a
political thriller by Spaniard Juan Gomez-Jurado and translated into English. The translation
is never clunky, so readers who didn't know it was originally Spanish probably won't notice.
The story is set in Rome and the Vatican. The pope has died, and a cardinal has turned up
dead. Roman police inspector Paola Dicanti is assigned the case, but she quickly realizes it's
bigger than it first seemed. And when an American priest, Anthony Fowler, shows up and says he
knows who the murderer is, Paola sees that the cardinal's death is but one part of a conspiracy
within the Catholic Church that spans continents and decades.
If this plotline sounds a bit hokey to you, the book isn't as silly as the premise might
suggest. The style and characters are much more sophisticated than, say, Dan Brown, but the
plotting is just as tight and the chapters end in cliff-hangers, almost forcing the reader to
turn the page. So this will appeal to both fans of Brown and those who expect a bit more from
their thrillers. That being said, it takes about forty pages for Gomez-Jurado to get into his
rhythm, so readers will have to have a bit of patience in the beginning. This sets up the
background for everything that comes later, and the rest of the book has such a page-turning
suspense to it that the slow opening will be quickly forgiven.
The heart of the book revolves around three characters and how their decisions and
personalities play out. First, there's Paola. She's a single, cynical, intelligent Roman
inspector who has made it far in a field still dominated by men and chauvinism. She also is a
graduate of the FBI's profiler training at Quantico, one of very few non-Americans to have such
a credential. Then there's Fowler. He used to be an intelligence officer, but after seeing
some of the worse aspects of the Cold War, he turned to the priesthood. He's been
investigating the pedophilia scandal that hit the American Catholic church several years back,
and in the course of his investigation he visited a mental hospital where the Church tried to
'cure' some of the priests. On several of those visits, he met with the third most important
character: Victor Karosky, a psychopathic priest who Fowler is convinced is the killer. The
reader learns about Karosky at first through Fowler's story and through 'documents' included
between some chapters (transcripts of interviews, letters about him, etc.), but toward the end
Gomez-Jurado occasionally goes into his head. While Karosky is basically a monster, Paola and
Fowler are well fleshed out and very human. While both are good at psychology, neither are so
preternaturally intelligent or skilled at something to make the reader raise an eyebrow.
With a great plot and interesting main characters, God's Spy is a very satisfying thriller. It certainly can't be called high-brow or literary, but it is entertaining. Most people who enjoy thrillers will be impressed by this one, and even those readers who aren't usually interested in them might be intrigued by Gomez-Jurado's unusual voice (for American readers, at least) and interesting explorations of human psychology. It will be interesting to see if he writes another book featuring Paola or Fowler, since both are
characters this reader would like to meet again.