BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Monday, March 30, 2015

Bea Reviews The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Format Read: Hardcover
Source: the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Release Date: March 26, 2015
Buying Links: Amazon* | Book Depository* | ARe*/OmniLit | Barnes & Noble
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Blurb from goodreads:

In the tradition of masterworks like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Ian Caldwell, coauthor of the international sensation The Rule of Four, returns with an exhilarating intellectual thriller set entirely within Vatican walls.

In 2004, as Pope John Paul’s reign enters its twilight, a mysterious exhibit is under construction at the Vatican Museums. A week before it is scheduled to open, its curator is murdered at a clandestine meeting on the outskirts of Rome. The same night, a violent break-in rocks the home of the curator’s research partner, Father Alex Andreou, a married Greek Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican with his five-year-old son.

When the papal police fail to identify a suspect in the robbery, Father Alex, desperate to keep his family safe, undertakes his own investigation into both crimes. His only hope of finding the killer is to reconstruct the dead curator’s final secret: what the four Christian gospels—and a little-known, true-to-life fifth gospel named the Diatessaron—reveal about the Church’s most controversial holy relic. But just as he begins to understand the truth about his friend’s death, a secretive tribunal is convened to try the murder—and when Father Alex learns the identity of the accused, he is devastated. Now he must navigate the ancient and perilous legal system of the Catholic Church, which offers no presumption of innocence, no jury, and no right to face one’s accuser. As evidence vanishes and witnesses refuse to testify, Father Alex realizes the system is controlled by someone with vested stakes in the exhibit—someone he must outwit to survive.

Ten years in the writing, and based on painstaking primary research in multiple languages as well as interviews with priests who have worked at the Holy See, Blood and Water is at once a riveting literary thriller, a feast of biblical history and scholarship, and a moving family drama. Rich, authentic, erudite, and compulsively readable, it satisfies on every level.

Bea's Thoughts:

Oh the blurb for this book was catnip, pure catnip. I immediately said yes to this request. I should add that I was a religion major at college and looked at becoming a minister, thus why this book was such catnip. I'm also a sucker for Dan Brown's books but this has much better writing.Like Brown, Caldwell sometimes goes into an excess of detail and at times the pace is slow. Calling it a thriller is misleading as there's not a lot of action nor is the pace fast despite the fairly short time span the story occurs in, about a week. But there are secrets, conspiracies, and twists galore. One important twist I saw coming but I couldn't figure out the why or it's exact connection to other events. 

Reading, in all of the meticulous detail, about the Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox church, and Greek Catholicism plus the Vatican and life in Vatican City made this religion major a very happy geek girl. At times, I felt like I was back in my college classes and wished that the half dozen of us who were majoring in religion could get together one more time and discuss this book. I especially loved all of the comparative studies of the four gospels of the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Not up on your bible studies or your Christian history? No worries, Caldwell has that covered. He provides plenty of background.

Caldwell is a little less successful at creating full, rich characters. They're interesting and moderately complex but with so much emphasis on religion, Vatican and church politics, and the mystery, fleshing out the characters is secondary. I liked the main characters well enough but I had a hard time relating to them. That may have been why the Greek Catholic priest is married and has a young son (yes, marriage and children are allowed in the Eastern Catholic church), to help make him more relatable. That said, Caldwell does deftly show us the deep love and commitment between brothers and the lengths to which they'll go to protect each other.

"The Fifth Gospel" is an idea-driven book, with lots of political intrigue. I loved the religious aspects, I enjoyed the mystery, I sometimes needed a notebook to keep track of what was going on and who everyone was, but the story kept me reading. I had to know what was going to happen, who was behind the murder, who was responsible for everything else going on, and were the Shroud of Turin and the fifth gospel real. Of course, real depends on whether you're talking historically or theologically. :) Despite being dry and slow at times, "The Fifth Gospel" is an engrossing read that will challenge you and make you think.


  1. I was brought up Catholic and had a Greek Orthodox dad but never heard of the Greek Catholic church. I thought only former Anglican priests could be married. I had heard of Byzantine Catholic but thought the church did not accept it.

    1. It was new to me too Steph and a bit confusing honestly. This explains better than I can -

  2. Wow...this sounds pretty fascinating.

    PS. I minored in I totally get where this review and your viewpoint are coming from!!

    1. :) Nice to have someone who understands.

  3. This intrigues me, as well, both for the religious and the mystery aspects. I could wish the characterization was more fleshed out, but on the whole this sounds like a book I should put on my (already groaning) TBR. Good review!

    1. LOL I thought of you as I was reading it. I'm curious as to your thoughts if/when you read it.

    2. It may be a loooong time. . . did I mention that groaning TBR list? ;-)

  4. This interests me, though I've never read the popular Dan Brown books, partly because I'm contrary and don't like to feel forced to read a book because everyone else says I should (my husband read and saw the Da Vinci Code- he didn't enjoy Angels and Demons, though).

    My family is Catholic but I converted to Episcopalian a few years ago and Episcopal priests-- men and women both-- may marry and have families if that helps the discussion. I was told that there are 4 branches of Christianity: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Episcopalian, and Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, etc.). Just my .02 and thank you for pointing out this book, though if it is a thick read and a bit dry I might get it for my husband, and then read it also.


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