Rocha, Luís Miguel. The Holy Assassin

Penguin, $32.95

A critic once wrote “that life is too short to read books like The Da Vinci Code”. The Holy Assassin is one of those books. If you agree, stay away. If, however, you were one of that book’s many fans, then I guess this one’s for you, too.

Rocha’s complex plot and sub-plots can’t be summarised in a short review. Let’s just say: many people die; things are not what they seem. Revolving around Pope John Paul II ‘s failed assassination, all the usual big dudes are involved: the CIA, the secret service formerly known as MI6, priest-assassins, Freemasons, Opus Dei, other Catholic Church hierarchy. A journalist is wanted by everyone, captured by some, and tortured by a few. She may or may not have a document written by a pope on his deathbed. It is unclear who the good guys are until well into the second half of the book.

The author throws many balls into the air during the first 200 or so pages of this nearly 600-page doorstop. It is to his credit that he can keep them in the air, let alone catch them all again by the end. Indeed, many plot turnings remain up there, in the air, for quite a while.

The Holy Assassin follows on from Rocha’s debut novel The Last Pope, and its ending hints that there’s another to come in a less-than-holy trilogy. Translated from Portuguese, the meandering prose could do with an editorial tidy-up.


Reviewed August 2010