It is very hard to place a book like “The Holy Bullet” by Luís Miguel Rocha. It involves murder but is not exactly a murder mystery. It involves catholic church and its secrets, but is not religious thriller in the sense we are now used to. But apart from all this, you can still enjoy it as a nice action story.
A retired agent of CIA is killed in Amsterdam station, leaving the CIA field office in London in chaos. A journalist working for a reputed British daily narrowly escapes a bombing attempt. A priest is sent to summon a member of Holy Alliance back to duty. And all these events are tied to the events of 13 May 1981, and its cause.
The story jumps back and forth between the days of John Paul II (and before) and current time, filling in the gaps and providing back story of the events. In present time, it mainly follows the trio of Sarah Monteiro, Father James Phelps and the Vatican spy Rafael Santini on their quest to safeguard and understand the vital information placed in their hands which provides the clue to the conspiracies plaguing the last two papacies. But it also gives enough time to developing other characters and plots, bringing all of them together near the end.
As I said, the book is hard to place in a generic plot outline. Although there are twists and revelations right to the end, the main mystery is solved about half-way through the book, leaving the characters’ mission just to get to the end safely (not easy, given the forces against them, but still). And given the ancient church secrets and conspiracies we are accustomed to read about in recent years, the conspiracy here is much more mundane (which actually makes the story different and hence, more refreshing than other religious thrillers).
As a sequel, the story refers heavily to the events of previous book “The Last Pope”, although I don’t think I missed anything important in not reading that book first. But there are a few plot points whose significance I didn’t understand. Maybe Rafael stating that the story is not over yet means those will be tied up later on.
A word of warning though, this is not a book to be started lightly. Till about half-way in the book, I found myself wondering (like Father Phelps) where exactly the story was going, given the complex plot and multiple threads running parallel through it. But still, by the end I feel the bit of patience in sticking to the book was rewarded amply.
Read about other religious thrillers here.