I can’t remember how many years I’ve been reading books for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge but each year I’ve tried to include one dealing with Vatican City, Europe’s smallest nation. In 2013 it was Thomas Cahill’s biography of Pope John XXII. Two years later I featured a similar book, this time Pope John XXIII: A Spiritual Biography by Christian Feldman. Back in January, I reviewed another Papal biography, the ever so hagiographic Shepherd of Mankind: A Biography of Pope Paul VI by William E. Barrett. Lastly, in 2017 perhaps hankering for a little fiction I read and reviewed Conclave by Robert Harris.
Believe it or not, I’m picky when it comes to which books I’ll read for the Vatican City part of the European Reading Challenge. Since officially Vatican City didn’t become a sovereign state until the Lateran Treaty of 1929 I’m restricted to Papal biographies of Popes who reigned after that date. Likewise, any novels set in the Vatican also need to reflect its status as a independent country, albeit a tiny one. While there aren’t too many novels like this for me to chose from, luckily for me a guy named Dan Brown wrote two mammoth best sellers that fit the bill. Recently, I decided to give his 2000 offering Angels and Demons a try. Fearing I’d encounter an over-hyped piece of passé crap I went in with low expectations. What I got was an entertaining novel that despite it’s criticisms, valid or otherwise, was hard to put it down.
Just like the above-mentioned novel by Robert Harris, Angels and Demons is set during a holy conclave, a time when the Church’s cardinals have been locked away and tasked with electing a new Pope. If that wasn’t hard enough, four cardinals who are consensus favorites to replace the recently deceased Pope have gone missing. Things quickly go from bad to worse when it’s discovered a newly-created weapon of mass destruction powered by anti-matter lies hidden somewhere in the Vatican set to explode at midnight. Claiming responsibility for both the missing cardinals and the ticking time bomb is the ancient order of the Illuminati, a shadowy group bent on revenge and world domination and thought to have gone extinct hundreds of years ago. Brought in to save the day is Robert Langdon, Harvard professor and expert in art and religious symbols. Assisting him in his efforts is the beautiful and brilliant Vittoria Vetra, an Italian scientist specializing in biology and physics.
Kudos to Dan Brown for writing a fairly decent page-turner that kept me up reading past my self-imposed bedtime on several evenings. Hats off to him as well for including a number of plot twists, none of which I saw coming. As a result, not only were my low expectations exceeded I’m embarrassed to admit I now wanna read The Da Vinci Code.