Father Ian Pearse

(creator: Jonasthan Rabb)

Jonathan Rabb
Father Ian Pearse Is a tough, war-torn 6'2" Roman Catholic priest whose parents had been against him joining the priesthood. "They were both academics, both good Catholics, but ... faith hadn't really been a part of the calculus."
"A priest?" his father had said. "Isn't that a little .... too Catholic?" `
He had got a scholarship to play baseball at Notre Dame where he had originally signed up for theology, but his parents had convinced him to broaden his horizons by changing to Classics. It was then that he had "begun to show an uncanny facility for Latin and Greek" and for deciphering old fragmentary tracts.
"It was like a game," he said, "filling in the missing pieces of the jigsaw." He had switched back to theology before joining a relief mission to Bosnia, where he'd met the girl Petra who was to become the mother of his child. After he was ordained, he could not find fulfilment as a parish priest (partly because of his "ever-tenuous belief") but had moved into the world of liturgical analysis and had welcomed the chance to work on the letters of St Ambrose at the Vatican. It was after two years there, and after he had applied for Vatican citizenship, that he became embroiled in attempting to thwart the incredible plot described in The Book of Q.

Jonathan Rabb (c1972?), son of an English father and American mother, graduated cum laude from Yale, before earning a PhD in political theory at Columbia. He is the brother of actor Jeremy Rabb. He published his first novel, The Overseer, in 1998, followed by The Book of Q (see review below), another historical thriller, three years later. He lived in New York City for 22 years, where he taught in the NYU creative writing program before moving to Savannah with his wife Andra (who had been director of prime time casting at CBS) and their young twins in 2008. He explains that he comes from a long line of historians, and attaches great importance to getting the history right.

The Book of Q (2001)
The Book of Q is concerned with the mysterious death of one Vatican priest and the disappearance of another. Father Ian Pearse, an American priest working on ancient Christian texts in the Vatican, comes into possession of a mysterious scroll. He discovers ingeniously coded letters and the text of an ancient Manichaean prayer about "Perfect Light" that had never before been found in written form. These lead him to unravel a Manichaean conspiracy - a heretical sect long-thought dead - reaching deep into the Vatican hierarchy. Even Cardinal Von Neurath, the likely next Pope, is closely involved. Racing from the Vatican via an ancient Greek monastery to war-torn Bosnia, Father Pearse has to decipher the Syriac cryptograms and codes before the closely guarded heresy is unleashed on the world.

It turns out that Mani, who was "the last of the Manichaean Prophets, 'the Paraclete, 'the seal' promised by Christ", had prophesied the day when all other religions "had to be rooted out, or at least subsumed within the Manichaean system". So the plot, that involves Manichaean infiltration of the highest offices of the Catholic Church, culminates in a Manichaean explosion in the Vatican that kills 100 cardinals, not to mention the destruction of 1000 other churches - but with remarkably little world-wide concern.

It does not sound very convincing, and no amount of historical scholarship can compensate for this. It also makes a very long-winded and tortuous story, which branches off into all sorts of irrelevancies, including pages devoted to unnecessarily detailed information about Manichaean beliefs (the real Manichaeans disappeared from the West after the fifth century, but, according to the author, not only survived the centuries but rose to secret positions of great power), and there are lengthy speeches, such as the one by Pentecostalist Archie Conroy which we could well have done without. Even the real-life murder of Roberto Calvi, who had been found dangling at the end of a rope under London's Blackfriars Bridge in 1982, is explained as part of the Manichaean plot.

In the finale, Pearse conveniently arranges for the removal from the newly found document (that turns out to be Q) of a section denying Christ's resurrection. Q is the long lost source used by Matthew and Luke, which, according to the author, "was nothing less than the history of the lost years of Jesus's life, his development from ages 12 to 30, all transcribed by the pen of a Cynic teacher". The supposed quotations from the long lost Q, are hardly very inspiring, as when Jesus says, "Blessed are those who have grown confident and have found faith for themselves!" Or "Do not look to find another to find a guide to yourself. He will not be there." Or even, "Those who name themselves bishop, and also deacon, as if they had received their authority from God, are, in truth, waterless canals."

Unlikely characters include the dreaded Cardinal Von Neurath, and Colonel Nigel Harris "the perfect product of Eton and Sandhurst, white face and high forehead below a neatly combed crop of ash blonde hair", who waffles on about his Faith Alliance movement without really telling us anything about it. Unlikely incidents include hidden doors in a remote monastery on Mount Athos, complete with an alarm system that leads to Pearse inevitably being confronted by a monk pointed a gun at him.

There are some really exciting moments as when Pearse escapes from Vatican security officer Stefan Kleist's effort to detain him, and when he jumps from a moving train to evade a man who is following him. But, as a priest, Pearse is seldom very convincing. No wonder he ends up by giving up what vocation he had for a happy return to Petra and his seven-year-old son. But it takes him too long to reach this point.

There is a brief biography of the author on the Book Browse site, and an article on his move to Savanah in the Savanah Morning News.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


The Book of Q cover
The book of Q cover
Examples of American and British cover designs.The British have the more striking design, but have used the Etruscan symbol for Q which must make the book quite awkward to ask for!
Part of the final clue that leads to the missing Manichaean document that is at the heart of the mystery.
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