Dominus | Tom Fox | 2015 | 400p | Headline | Review copy | Buy the book
First off, before I begin the review, disclosure! I read a very early manuscript of this novel and I happily learn from the acknowledgements that the book’s Chianti reference is just for me – thank you, Tom, I do like my Italian wine. The review that follows, as normal, is completely impartial. It was very pleasing, though, to see the book in its finished form, ready to fly free into the world! The ebook was published on 18 June; the paperback will be available in October, I believe.
Over the course of a few days, the world turns upside down. A stranger walks into St Peter’s in Rome and before the eyes of the congregation and the Swiss Guard, all of whom kneel before him, he heals the Pope, a man who has been in a wheelchair for most of his days. The Pope not only stands up, he stands tall and straight. As if this miracle isn’t enough, it coincides with others, each more incredible than the one before. The Vatican goes into lockdown, the doors are sealed, while the Pope’s staff and advisors work to gain control of a situation that is beginning to consume the world’s media. Helicopters flying above the Vatican grounds capture images of the Pope sitting in the gardens, talking quietly with the gentle stranger, kissing his hand. The Catholic Church will not be the same again.
Alexander Trecchio, nephew to one of the Pope’s closest friends and cardinals, was once a Vatican priest. His faith was robbed from him. Now he is a religious columnist on one of Rome’s newspapers. Suddenly he has the story of a lifetime. But each expert he approaches for an opinion is found tortured and murdered. It’s not long before he’s on the run, accompanied by Gabriella Fierro, a police officer whose faith, unlike Alexander’s, is as strong as ever. Gabriella has another reason to investigate the stranger – a corpse washed up in the Tiber that is his spitting image. And all the time, watching everything, are agencies of a different kind – the Vatican is steeped in a tradition that forces within will do everything to protect, while outside there are others who will do all they can to bring down this new popular Pope whom, it would appear, is blessed by the favour of God.
Dominus is an intriguing thriller, combining as it does the fascinating spiritual mystery of the miracle bringer with the excitement of the hunt as Alexander and Gabriella seek out the truth while, for much of the time, running for their lives. Evil, it would seem, lurks everywhere and we see it here hiding around each corner. The baddies are every bit as bad as one would hope. But all the time the questions surrounding the identity and powers of the stranger remain. He has such an attractive appeal and, although I wished he had a larger presence in the novel, his charisma shines.
There are some powerful personalities in Dominus and I enjoyed the vast majority of them, although I would have liked to have learned more about the stranger and the Pope. Gabriella and Alexander have a history and this, confused by their very different religious feelings, makes their relationship especially intriguing. There is also a very strong and satisfying sense of place, focused on Rome and the Vatican.
I had a few very minor issues. A couple of the baddies were a little two-dimensional – I think I may have read enough now about secret Vatican societies – and the coincidence of both Gabriella and Alexander working for hostile bosses was a bit tiring. But the thrill of the plot, the fascinating stranger, the fabulous premise and the sympathetic character of the leading figures ensured that I was swept along by the novel and its mystery all the way to the shocking and harrowing conclusion. If you’re after a fun, well-written thriller for the summer holidays then I think Dominus would suit very well indeed.