More of the same from the immensely capable Gary McAvoy, quite simply one of the most prolific writers it has ever been my good fortune to review. If you haven’t read Gary’s work before, you’ve missed a treat, and you are strongly advised to go back to the beginning of this long-running saga and get to know the characters from their first case together. The author is the real star of this series. His writing is eloquent and intelligent, his narrative craftwork flawless. He researches and curates theological and procedural information as good if not better than any author I have read, cleverly constructing fictional tales around real-life historical artefacts and their legendary backstories. To put it simply, he gives Indiana Jones the Dan Brown treatment, solving complex puzzles rather than buckling swashes – although, occasionally the action erupts, its swift resolution left to the Swiss Guard element of the ensemble, Karl and Lukas, while primary protagonists Father Michael and Hana do what they do best: travel to ancient religious sites and museums solving murderous, high-level corruption mysteries.
In The Confessions of Pope Joan, their ecclesiastical sleuthing adventures continue, though the entry – seventh in the series, I believe – is a little lighter in said action than previous versions, which is a bit of a shame, because among McAvoy’s many excellent strings is the ability to craft tense, gritty and all-business action sequences involving the relevant military professionals of the piece. Indeed, this book is an altogether less energetic entry than previous outings. The complexity isn’t as profound and there really isn’t any genuine threat or suspense to speak of. The narrative has perhaps a more progressive premise than the others, as it explores the possible reality of the rumoured story of Pope Joan, who is believed by many to have sat on the papal throne in the 9th century under the guise of a man, until her discovery when giving birth, and her tenure quickly covered up. This is a timely book as, in keeping with the current trend, history is hence questioned and reinterpreted; Joan’s ascension becomes the mechanism for profound change in the structure and progress of the whole Catholic Church, creating a schism between progressives and purists – very topical indeed.
The positive about this, without wishing to spoil the end, is that it appears there might be a glimmer of resolution to the long-running “will-they-won’t-they” saga, in respect of the forbidden but barely concealed love between the two main characters. I have to say, and I may have mentioned this before when reviewing the series, but this particular element has been stretched far beyond the capacity to care; by now you just want them to either get it on or call it off, and move on with other sub-plots. In fact, it is fair to harshly say that the franchise could perhaps do with a jump-start. The characters meander along doing what they do, but their irrefutable decency, loyalty and goodness don’t really bring any new challenges for them beyond the case they are solving. I would like, certainly by now, to see the core characters start to show flaws, layers of depth, personal demons and faults; I want them to be wrong, do bad things, make selfish decisions – to put it bluntly, I want them to show destructive human characteristics, for their unwavering virtue feels a touch too safe by now. After seven books, Gary really should consider shattering the formula; tear open the characters’ dark side, rather than always keeping them in the light. The law enforcement characters are also just a touch too conveniently efficient and conscientious – indeed, I couldn’t help thinking that Gary has a great deal more faith in the diligence of the British police than anyone I know over here. There are not enough challenges beyond that of the bad guys – and those bad guys, relative to the good guys, are just a little too unambiguous.
But I don’t want to disparage Gary McAvoy in any way. I can’t sufficiently emphasize how good he is, and he has my utmost respect as a writer, a researcher, an academic and a teacher of history. Read his books in order if you are able, but do read them.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: gary-mcavoy religious theological fiction thriller suspense ancient artefacts religious action exciting fiction