Father Alex Andreou

(creator: Ian Caldwell)

Father Alex Andreou is a 29-year-old bearded Greek Catholic priest who "can't remember a time when I didn't live inside the Vatican". He says he was "was born to be a priest." His father had been a Greek Catholic priest, so had been allowed to marry before he was ordained; his uncle (who had brought him up when a teenager after his father's death) is a Vatican cardinal and his older brother, Simon, is also a priest in the Roman Catholic tradition. Alex too had been married before he was ordained but his depressed wife had gone off leaving him with an an 11 month old son, Peter, who is now 5. Alex is the narrator throughout.

Ian Caldwell (1976 - ) grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia and graduated with a degree in history from Princeton University. His first novel, The Rule of Four (that has been compared to Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code), was co-written with his childhood friend Dustin Thomason. The Fifth Gospel was his first solo novel and took him eleven years to research and write. He lives in Vienna, Virginia, with his wife and three sons.

The Fifth Gospel (2015)
The Fifth Gospel is set in 2004 at a time when Pope John Paul II's dying wish was to reunite the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. A highly mysterious exhibit is under construction at the Vatican Museums. A week before it is scheduled to open, its curator is murdered. The same night, a violent break-in occurs at the home of the curator's research partner, Father Alex Andreou. When the papal police fail to solve the crimes, Father Alex, determined to save Simon, his much admired and revered brother who is now accused of the murder but strangely refuses to say a word in his defence, undertakes his own investigation.

To find the killer he must reconstruct the dead curator's secret: what the four Christian gospels - and a little-known, true-to-life fifth gospel known as the Diatessaron - reveal about the Holy Shroud, the Church's most controversial relic but one that is claimed by both Catholics and the Orthodox. But just as he begins to understand the truth about his friend's death, and its consequences for the future of the world's two largest Christian Churches, Father Alex finds that he too is in danger.

This is a very well researched story (the author explains that he "boned up on Church history") that explores the relationship between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. It is told in a lively and interesting (and in the case of Simon's trial, dramatic, way}, and is much more convincing than most other attempts in this genre. And the discussion about, for example, the authenticity of the gospels ("Not one of our four gospels was written by an eye witness") may sound a little naive but even so poses interesting if not original questions (for example, could Thomas have been Jesus's twin brother?).

Even the intermingling of real and fictitious characters seems to work quite well, although the appearance of the desperately ill Pope John Paul II himself, in a final dramatic act of reconciliation, seems a little too contrived. There are nice human touches, though, as in the portrayal of young Peter and his mother, and the Vatican background makes it an interesting read.

There is an interesting interview with the author on the American Booksellers Association site and an article about him in Wikipedia.

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The cover is designed to look old and battered. Appropriate enough, but a bit off-putting for potential purchasers?
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