Disclosure: I’m writing this review while listening to a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It’s a classical piece of music I’m sure most of us are familiar with, with all four violin concertos taking up less than 45 minutes (by which time I should be editing this review). Another disclosure: Gary McAvoy sent me an ARC of his latest book, for which I’m truly grateful; so not only am I listening to some Vivaldi, I’m writing about him, too, in a weird sort of way. Cheers, Gary.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reading Mr McAvoy’s fascinating and supremely entertaining Magdalene Trilogy. I reviewed each one of this very blog. I wondered if we the readers would hear from Fr Michael Dominic and his intrepid crew of fellow adventurers and relic-hunters again. I am happy to say that we are mere weeks away from the publication of a new book. The Vivaldi Cipher is being published on August 18, 2021. And if you’re a fan of the previous three books, then I’m happy to say that you’re in for a bigger treat.
Whereas Magdalene focused on the search for the truth behind the mystery of Mary Magdalene and her relationship with Jesus, as well as a cover-up within the Vatican City regarding her gospel and the eventual discovery of her final resting place, Gary McAvoy takes us in another direction. This time he uses his extensive knowledge and research to uncover some unpleasant truths behind the massive art collection that’s housed within the walls of the papal city. And the mystery is no less intriguing, particularly when our heroes are faced with life or death scenarios in nearly every chapter, thanks to the Camorra, one of the oldest and largest criminal organisations in Italy.
The prologue sets the scene. It’s the mid-18th century and a new pope is about to be elected. However, one of the favourites for the highest position in Christendom is poisoned, and just before his death he passes on a secret to Vivaldi who, and not many people know this, was training to become a priest. Horrified by what he hears, he knows he must share it with the world. But how can he do so without putting himself in peril? The answer is simple: he hides it in a piece of music. Nearly three hundred years later, the leader of the Camorra has a crisis of conscience, and on his death bed confesses a similar secret to Fr Rinaldo, a local priest. Lucky for him, his friend Fr Dominic is in town, Venice to be precise, and Fr Rinaldo confides in Dominic as much as he can without breaking the all important seal of confession. Dominic and his journalist friend, Hana Sinclair, enlist the help of cryptologist Dr Livia Galla, and together they play detective. Finding themselves involved in a centuries-old plot to defraud the Vatican, they chase leads up and down dark alley ways and canals. Aided by Karl and Lukas, from the elite Swiss Guard, and Marco Picard, a Green Beret and Hana’s bodyguard and now lover, the closer they get to the truth, the closer they are to certain death.
This book is a blast. It is so entertaining and fast moving, that I could barely draw breath at times. And yet, like Mr McAvoy’s previous books, I got myself an education. I was taken on a tour of Venice that not only included an art and music history lesson, but by God, some of the food these characters eat had my mouth watering, too. I felt I was in Venice a lot of the time. And now I need to go for real, though not via cruise ships. I must also beware of pigeons. Everything that made the Magdalene Trilogy one of my favourite reads of the year is here in spades. The Vivaldi Cipher is also markedly more violent than its predecessors, which is the right way to go because of the active presence of organised crime. People die and die quickly. Parts of the book might not be for the faint-hearted, but let this not be a distracted from a welcome change of pace and location. Yes, there is still skullduggery to be found within the Vatican, but the good guys will always win out. This time, however, there will be a cost.
Next book, please, Gary. Your readers and I are waiting.