Ian Caldwell The Fifth Gospel: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9781501131967

The Fifth Gospel: A Novel

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9781501131967: The Fifth Gospel: A Novel
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The instant New York Times bestseller from the author of the international sensation The Rule of Four combines a lost gospel, a contentious relic, and a dying pope’s final wish into a “deliciously labyrinthine” (Providence Journal) intellectual thriller that “kicks off at ninety mph and doesn’t slow down” (Associated Press).

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.

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About the Author:

Ian Caldwell is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Fifth Gospel and (with Dustin Thomason) The Rule of Four, which sold nearly two million copies in North America and was translated into thirty-five languages. He lives in Virginia with his wife and children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Fifth Gospel

CHAPTER 1

“IS UNCLE SIMON late?” Peter asks.

Our housekeeper, Sister Helena, must be wondering the same thing as she watches our dinner of hake overcook in the pan. It’s ten minutes past when my brother said he would arrive.

“Never mind that,” I say. “Just help me set the table.”

Peter ignores me. He climbs higher in his chair, standing on his knees, and announces, “Simon and I are going to see a movie, and then I’m going to show him the elephant at the Bioparco, and then he’s going to teach me how to do the Marseille turn.”

Sister Helena does a little shuffle in front of the frying pan. She thinks the Marseille turn is a kind of dance step. Peter is horrified. Lifting one hand in the air, the posture of a wizard performing a spell, he says, “No! It’s a dribbling move! Like Ronaldo.”

Simon is flying from Turkey to Rome for an art exhibit curated by one of our mutual friends, Ugo Nogara. Opening night, still almost a week off, will be a formal affair to which I wouldn’t have a ticket myself except for the work I did with Ugo. But under this roof, we live in a five-year-old’s world. Uncle Simon has come home to give soccer lessons.

“There’s more to life,” Sister Helena says, “than kicking a ball.”

She takes it upon herself to be the feminine voice of reason. When Peter was eleven months old, my wife, Mona, left us. Ever since, this wonderful old nun has become my life-support system as a father. She’s on loan from Uncle Lucio, who has battalions of them at his disposal, and I have trouble imagining what I would do without her, since I can’t pay what even a reasonable teenage girl would expect to earn. Fortunately, Sister Helena wouldn’t leave Peter for the world.

My son disappears into his bedroom and returns holding his digital alarm clock. With his mother’s gift for directness, he sets it on the table in front of me and points.

“Sweetheart,” Helena assures him, “Father Simon’s train is probably just running behind.”

The train. Not the uncle. Because it would be hard for Peter to understand that Simon sometimes forgets fare money or becomes absorbed in conversations with strangers. Mona wouldn’t even agree to name our child after him because she found him unpredictable. And though my brother has the most prestigious job a young priest can hope for—he’s a diplomat in the Holy See Secretariat of State, the elite of our Catholic bureaucracy—the truth is that he needs all the grueling work he can get. Like the men on our mother’s side of the family, Simon is a Roman Catholic priest, which means he’ll never marry or have kids. And unlike other Vatican priests, who were born for the desk and the ample waist, he has a restless soul. God bless Mona, she wanted our son to take after his dependable, unhurried, satisfied father. So she and I made a compromise when we named him: in the gospels, Jesus comes upon a fisherman named Simon, and renames him Peter.

I take out my mobile phone and text Simon—Are you close?—while Peter inspects the contents of Sister Helena’s pan.

“Hake is fish,” he announces, apropos of nothing. He’s in a classifying stage. He also hates fish.

“Simon loves this dish,” I tell him. “We used to eat it as kids.”

Actually, when Simon and I used to eat this dish, it was cod, not hake. But a single priest’s salary stretches only so far at the fish market. And as Mona often reminded me when planning meals like these, my brother—who is a head taller than any other priest inside these walls—eats as much as two ordinary men.

Mona is on my mind now, more than usual. My brother’s arrival always seems to bring with it the shadow of my wife’s departure. They are the magnetic poles of my life; one of them always lurks in the other’s shade. Mona and I knew each other as children inside the Vatican walls, and when we met again in Rome, it felt like God’s will. But we had a cart-and-horse problem—Eastern priests have to marry before they’re ordained, or not marry at all—and in retrospect Mona probably needed more time to prepare herself. The life of a Vatican wife isn’t easy. The life of a priest’s wife is even harder. Mona kept working full-time until almost the day she gave birth to our blue-eyed baby who ate like a shark and slept even less. Mona nursed him so often that I would find the refrigerator empty from her attempts to replenish herself.

Only later would everything come into focus. The refrigerator was empty because she had stopped going to the grocery store. I hadn’t noticed this because she’d also given up eating regular meals. She prayed less. Sang to Peter less. Then, three weeks before our son’s first birthday, she disappeared. I discovered a bottle of pills hidden under a mug at the back of a cabinet. A doctor at Vatican Health Services explained that she had been trying to bootstrap herself out of depression. We must not give up hope, he said. So Peter and I waited for Mona to come back. Waited, and waited.

Today, he vows that he remembers her. These memories, though, are really details from photographs he’s seen around the apartment. He colors them with knowledge gleaned from television shows and magazine advertisements. He hasn’t yet noticed that women at our Greek church don’t wear lipstick or perfume. Sadly, his experience of church seems almost Roman Catholic: when he looks at me, what he sees is a lone priest, solitary, celibate. The contradictions of his own identity are still in his future. But he names his mother constantly in his prayers, and people tell me John Paul behaved in a similar way after he lost his mother at a young age. I find comfort in that thought.

At last the phone rings. Sister Helena smiles as I hurry to answer it.

“Hello?”

Peter watches anxiously.

I’m expecting the sounds of a metro station or, worse, an airport. But that’s not what I hear. The voice on the other end is faint. Far away.

“Sy?” I say. “Is that you?”

He doesn’t seem to hear me. The reception is poor. I take this as a sign that he’s closer to home than I expected. It’s hard to keep a signal on Vatican soil.

“Alex,” I hear him say.

“Yes?”

He speaks again, but the line is swimming in static. It occurs to me that he might’ve made a detour to the Vatican Museums to see Ugo No-gara, who’s been struggling with the pressure of finishing his big exhibit. Though I would never say so to Peter, it would be just like my brother to find an extra soul to tend on his way in.

“Sy,” I say. “Are you at the museums?”

Down at the dinner table, suspense is killing Peter. “He’s with Mister Nogara?” he whispers to Helena.

But on the other end of the line, something changes. There’s a burst of hissing I recognize as wind blowing. He’s outdoors. And here in Rome, at least, it’s storming.

For a moment, the line clears up.

“Alex, I need you to come get me.”

His voice sends an uncomfortable tingle up my back.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I’m at Castel Gandolfo. In the gardens.”

“I don’t understand,” I tell him. “Why are you there?”

The wind sets in again, and a strange noise slips through the earpiece. It sounds like my brother moaning.

“Please, Alex,” he says. “Come now. I’m—I’m near the east gate, below the villa. You need to get here before the police do.”

My son is frozen, staring at me. I watch the paper napkin slip off his lap and drift through the air like the pope’s white skullcap caught in the wind. Sister Helena, too, is watching.

“Stay right there,” I tell Simon. And I turn away, so Peter can’t see the look I know is in my eyes. Because the sound in my brother’s voice is something I don’t remember ever hearing there before. Fear.

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