(creator: Diego Marani)
|Domingo Salazar had never known his parents but "from the colour of my skin I think they must have been Caribbean, or at least of mixed race.
The (Dominican) fathers found me beneath the rubble of the orphanage of the Holy Cross, in Haiti, in 2010, and brought me to Italy. I grew up in the boarding-school run by the Dominican sisters of St Imelda, I studied at the patriarchal monastery in Bologna (we are not told how he became a monk) and then at the Papal Police Academy in Rome, which I left with the rank of inspector in the fifth year of the reign of Pope Benedict XVIII." He subsequently became a secret agent for the Vatican. He is totally unscrupulous, and happily combines his dogmatic religious faith with extreme violence and drug taking.
Diego Marani (1959 - ) was born in Ferrara. He is an Italian novelist, translator, and newspaper columnist who works in Brussels as a Policy Officer for the Directorate-General for Interpretation of the European Commission, after spending time in the Multilingualism Policy Unit. He also writes columns for various European newspapers about current affairs in Europanto, a language that he has invented. He has published seven novels in Italian, including New Finnish Grammar and The Last of the Vostyachs, as well as God's Dog (reviewed below).
God's Dog (2012. English translation by Judith Landry, 2014)
God's Dog is Diego Marani's first detective novel, introducing Domingo Salazar, a Dominican monk, who is a Vatican secret agent and "hound of God". Italy is now a theocratic state ruled by the Vatican, whose secret agents are dedicated to rooting out non-believers and heretics. It is a place where papal police carry guns, abortion is punishable by death, atheists are subject to an atheist tax and are liable to be hunted as terrorists, and Darwinism is a crime. His current job is to capture an abortionist doctor who is likely to commit the serious crime of euthanasia while visiting his terminally ill father.
However, while living in Amsterdam, Salazar had been secretly creating a new combined faith movement called Bible-Koranism. As a result, Salazar and his closest friend, Guntur, fall under suspicion of sabotaging the administration. Eventually it all, quite literally, blows up in an attempt to assassinate the pope and his hierarchy at a canonisation ceremony for the late Pope Benedict.
It gets off to an intriguing start. The idea of an all-powerful Roman Catholic church is a powerful if unlikely one - but then the author had no way of knowing that the rule of Bededict would give way to that of the very different Pope Francis the year after the book was written. As it is, Salazar is reminded by the vicar to whom he reports, "Euthanasia does away with the mystery of pain, which should be so revered. It's not just a question of dogma, Salazar. Our hold on people's consciences is also at stake. If men cease to fear death, our sway over them is seriously threatened."
Salazar himself is convinced of the need to "demolish science" and restore mystery to the church: "We persist in trying to bring the Church closer to the people. We ought to be doing the reverse: making it more remote, not more accessible ... Man must be impelled to revere God, to placate his wrath. Fear is of the essence. We should go back to the root of religion, which is above all fear of God. We should begin by reintroducing sacrifice", and he goes on, as he often does, to quote part of Joseph Ratzinger's catechism to justify his views. All this is contained in the extensive diaries that he keeps that give an interesting insight into his thoughts, except for one over-long quote about his time in Amsterdam and a chimp that had been taught to speak Swahili (!) that might prove our close kinship to the animal world and led to Salazar himself being accused of "treachery and offences against religion".
Much of this is explained in the first half of the book that raises all sorts of theological issues that, whether you agree with Salazar or not, certainly hold the interest. But things then become much more melodramatic leading up to the final, not too convincing, scenes of mass violence that leave Salazar feeling that at last "he was free, that now he could go anywhere he wanted ... but he didn't know what to do with all freedom." Go on to further adventures no doubt. But it is the background of an aggressively intolerant religious totalitarian state that gives the book its main interest and, for some readers at least, its real appeal.
|The sophisticated cover features a portrait of St Dominic by Bellini. The book, published by Dedalus, is handsomely produced.|