Juan Gomez-Jurado Father Anthony Fowler

(creator: Juan Gómez-Jurado)

Father Anthony Fowler, when we first meet him, is a 50-year-old American priest sent on a mission to the Vatican, but he clearly has links to the CIA. He had earlier been a Major in the United States Air Force in Vietnam, where he had been "part of an elite Special Ops unit that specialised in pararescue", looking for pilots who had been shot down. It was while he had been "behind the lines, on a quiet afternoon spent with the regiment's chaplain" that he "knew there and then that I wanted to dedicate my life to God and his creatures. And that is what I have done." After ordination, he had asked to be sent to an army base as a chaplain where he found himself working alongside, and helping, CIA agents. He felt he could serve "the interests of my country and those of my Church at the same time" until his experiences at a torture camp in Honduras gave him a reputation for intransigence and made him leave the CIA.

Then, as he had graduated magna cum laude in psychology at Princeton at the age of twenty, he had been sent by his bishop to work at the Saint Matthew Institute in Maryland that dealt with priests who "have a history of sexual abuse of minors or problems with drugs", and where he could not approve of what was going on as most of the staff seemed to lack any sort of professional expertise.

One of the worst of the sex offenders, a Father Karosky, later escaped, and Father Fowler, who had by then been working at a soup kitchen in Harlem for several years, was contacted by an old service boss to help him track him down. He proves a bold and determined investigator, being quite convinced that behind all his own frailties and the frailties of the current church, "There is another Church, infinite and invisible, whose flags are raised towards Heaven. This Church lives in the hearts of the millions of faithful who love Christ and his message. It will reborn from its ashes and fill the world."

Juan Gómez-Jurado (1977- ) was born in Madrid, graduated in communication sciences at San Pablo University, became an award-winning journalist, and has also worked in radio and television. Following the international success of God's Spy, his first novel which became a best-seller and has been published in more than forty countries, he achieved his ambition of becoming a full-time writer. He has gone on to win a number of literary awards. He lives in Madrid with his wife and daughter.

God's Spy (English translation, 2007)
God's Spy sees Father Anthony Fowler helping Paola Dicanti, a profiler who works with the Italian police (and of whom he grows rather over-fond)
, investigate the brutal murder of cardinals who were attending the Vatican to elect a new pope, following the death of Pope John Paul II. Each of them has had his tongue cut out, his hands removed and his eyes gouged out. It is Fowler who identifies the murderer as Father Victor Karosky, a murderous pederast whom he had first met when he was working at the St Matthew Institute, who had killed a priest, a Father Selznick, during his escape, and had "cut out Selznick's tongue and lips. He also sliced off Selznick's penis and forced him to eat it. It took Selznick three hours to die, yet nobody knew anything about it until the next morning."

The pursuit of Karosky, who adopts some very effective disguises, gets more and more hectic, and certainly doesn't lack excitement. But it is Paola's profiling skills that eventually lead her to realise that Karosky is more than just an individual serial killer. This lead to a dramatic bloody climax in which Fowler gets involved in desperate hand-to-hand fighting.

It makes a eventful story that holds the attention throughout. Indeed some of its original Spanish readers found it quite shocking. Karosky's behaviour is truly appalling, but so, it turns out, was his own childhood - and indeed the way he had been treated at the St Matthew Institute, where he had been chemically castrated. It is strong meat, and James Graham's English translation makes it vivid and compelling.

But it is perhaps more of a dramatic adventure than a real detective story, and surely the Vatican isn't really quite such a sinister place as it is made out to be, what with its Holy Alliance, and its elite, the Hand of St Michael: "A group of special agents who were posted throughout the world" and who would, if so ordered, "fabricate crucial information that would change the course of a war. They would silence,deceive, and at the furthest extreme, kill." Just a little over the top, perhaps.

The Moses Expedition (originally published as Contract with God, English translation: 2010)
The Moses Expedition describes the
unraveling of clues and codes that lead to the discovery of the burial ground of the lost Ark of the Covenant, the centuries old container of the original Ten Commandment tablets Moses brought down from the mountain. Caught up in this search are Father Fowler who represents both the Holy Alliance of the Vatican and the CIA, the bizarre, reclusive wealthy magnate Raymond Kayn and his attendant body guards, a Professor Forrester who guides the secret mission to the Jordanian Desert Claw Canyon, Andrea Otero, a lesbian journalist ripe for the scoop of an international discovery (there is, unfortunately, more emphasis on her than on Father Fowler), and assorted Arab terrorists and militants.

It makes an arrresting if improbable story, helped along by the use of very short chapters. The gripping start, involving a Nazi neurosurgeon who had once conducted experiments on defenceless Jewish children, is particularly horrible - but then so is the way that Father Fowler lies to him before quite happily abandoning him to certain death.

The eccentric millionaire Mr Kayn (once Cohen) at one stage comes down from the sky in a plane with two giant propellors that allowed it to descend like a helicopter. "That's the BA609 Tiltrotor. The best in its class. This is its maiden voyage. They say it was one of Mr Kayn's own ideas." It is not made any more convincing by a full-page pen and ink drawing, of which several are used, perhaps in a slightly desperate attempt to make it all seem a bit more more credible.

The most interesting parts of the story are those that describe the hunting down and excavation of the Ark in a remote area of Jordan, but tension is lessened when the author keeps cutting away to other scenes, including even some flashbacks to the past that sometimes make it difficult to follow. And Andrea Otero makes a less interesting lead player than Father Fowler. She (or the author?) seems curiously naive as when she imagines that finding the Ark would not only be the "scoop of the century" but provide "proof of the existence of God". But it is she who finally has to admit: "I can't believe it. So many deaths, so much violence, and all for a ridiculous museum piece".

It is a violent story, involving a traitor in the group who has links to terrorist organisations back in the US, and who is patiently waiting the moment to strike. It all ends in an appalling bloodbath which disposes of most of the cast, thanks to the use of the Ypsilon protocol. This is "a procedure by which a security detail assassinates all the members of the group they're supposed to protect, if the code word comes over the radio. They kill everybody except the person who hired them and anyone who says he should be left alone."

Even Andrea seems happy to join in the violence. Thinking Thank God I never get tired of doing this, she "pulled back her foot before blasting Torres's testicles. His scream bounced off the canyon walls." She goes on to (just) survive an attack by a scorpion, and Fowler finally escapes the onslaught of killer stinging ants. Someone else gets his hand nailed to the table with a metal skewer. And one poor unfortunate gets both of his eyes stabbed out. It's that sort of book. But as Father Fowler becomes more and more of an unscrupulous adventurer, he is less and less of either a cleric or a detective.

The author has his own multi-lingual website, although much of it does not work or turns out to be in Spanish. For more information, see the Wikipedia site. There is a very critical review of God's Spy on The Complete Review site, and a highly enthusiastic one on the Italian Mysteries site.

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


God's Spy cover
God's Spy cover
God's Spy cover
These are three of the covers used on the English translations. My own preference is for the feeling of mystery and menace in the top one.
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