The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, March 2015
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A mysterious exhibit is under construction at the Vatican Museums. The curator is murdered at a clandestine meeting on the outskirts of Rome a week before it opens. That same night, a violent break-in rocks the home of Greek Catholic priest Father Alex Andreou. When the papal police fail to identify a suspect in either crime, Father Alex decides that to find the killer he must reconstruct the secret of what a little-known, true-to-life fifth gospel known as the Diatessaron reveals about the church’s most controversial holy relic. But just as he begins to understand the truth about his friend’s death and its consequences for the future of the Christian church, Father Alex discovers a ruthless stalker is hunting him—an enemy with a vested stake in the exhibit that he must outwit to survive.
Rich, authentic, erudite, and emotionally searing, The Fifth Gospel is a riveting novel of suspense and a feast of biblical history that satisfies on every level.
When Father Alex Andreou volunteers to help a new curator friend research the gospels to prepare for his new exhibit, he expects nothing extraordinary. Yet when his friend is killed in a mysterious meeting, Alex is pulled into a deep mystery involving the Shroud of Turin, a discovered fifth gospel, and more secrets the Vatican is desperately trying to hide. As Alex struggles to free his brother, arrested for murder, and uncover the truth, he will discover more than he ever expected.
I’m a sucker for religious history. The Da Vinci Code might have introduced me to the layers beneath the Catholic church, but it also launched a intense curiosity for all things religious (not just Christian, as you might have noticed). When I found The Fifth Gospel lingering on the shelf at the library, it felt like kismet.
To be frank, The Fifth Gospel is nothing like The Da Vinci Code. Caldwell tries to recreate the same fascinating mystery, the intense need to churn through the pages as quickly as possible, but the result is a little more lackluster. Don’t get me wrong – the plot is interesting enough, but not enough to hook me.
In fact, if it weren’t for the vast amounts of religious history, I probably would have chalked this book up to DNF and put it back in my library bag. Alex was interesting enough, but as much as I tried, I didn’t feel that connection with him, that investment. Why? He kept telling me how he felt, instead of showing me.
But the history…oh, it plucked my nerdy heartstrings. I know next to nothing about the Orthodox Church, but have been intrigued by it. I loved how Alex epitomized the differences between the two churches, even as a man (an Orthodox priest who worked for the Vatican) who belonged to both and neither at once. The light biblical theology and the heavy religious history piqued my curiosity enough to start delving into the history and traditions of the Orthodox.
Typically, the religious history/thriller fiction I’ve read portrays either a nameless or a fictional pope. I found Caldwell’s decision to use John Paul slightly unsettling. He isn’t depicted negatively – if anything, he’s a symbol of power – but the scenes with him yanked me out of the fictional world.
While The Fifth Gospel isn’t the heart-pounding, intense religious history/thriller I was hoping for, the amount of real history of examination of traditions makes up for it. If you’re looking for another Da Vinci Code, this book is a pass.