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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

God's Spy

Juan Gómez-Jurado

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase God's Spy

Title: God's Spy
Author: Juan Gómez-Jurado
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 358 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: God's Spy - US
Espía de Dios - US
God's Spy - UK
God's Spy - Canada
Espion de Dieu - France
Der Gottes-Spion - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: Espía de Dios
  • Translated by James Graham

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Our Assessment:

C- : a few decent ideas, but poorly executed and written

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Sydney Morning Herald . 31/10/2007 Kerryn Goldsworthy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Gomez-Jurado is particularly good on the tensions that can arise between competing law-enforcement bodies and figures in a difficult or sensitive investigation. (...) Gomez-Jurado is a Spanish journalist and his polished, assured first novel is a gripping read. But it could get him into quite a lot of trouble with the Catholic Church." - Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       God's Spy has a lot of attention-grabbing ingredients. There's a cast of characters that includes a brutal serial killer (of cardinals !), a (female) Italian police inspector who was trained at the FBI headquarters in Quantico, and a priest who was an American intelligence officer -- not to mention cameos by popes John Paul II and Benedict. Set in the Vatican, it offers numerous conspiracies, from the Catholic Church sex-scandals to sinister and secretive Vatican organisations to the crimes John Negroponte was willing to overlook in Honduras. With all this set in the Vatican as the cardinals gather to elect a new pope in April of 2005 ... well, you can understand how the pitch would appeal to editors.
       "God's Spy has rights sold in over thirty-nine countries" the publicity material that came with our copy of the book trumpets, barely a year after it first appeared in Spanish. But one has to ask: did any editor actually read this thing before buying the rights ? Because this is one very, very not good book.
       Oh, the ideas are there. In outline it doesn't sound half bad. Someone is offing cardinals -- in a phenomenally gruesome manner. More or less in charge of the case, Paola Dicanti, from the Department for the Analysis of Violent Crime, has to contend with both attention and contempt from her male colleagues. The American priest-cum-spy, Anthony Fowler, has a tortured history of his own. The Vatican wants to keep everything hushed-up, so information about the dead cardinals is kept from the public. A journalist stumbles on the truth -- putting herself in grave danger. And then there's the Santa Alianza:

"It's the Vatican's Secret Service. Or so they say. A network of spies and secret agents who don't hesitate to kill. Old wives' tales, used to scare rookie cops who just joined the force. Nobody takes it seriously."
       In this book, it's hard to take anyone or thing seriously, but even the most outlandish idea isn't too ridiculous for Gómez-Jurado.
       The case is not a whodunit: the perpetrator is identified early on as a former priest, Victor Karosky. But catching him is something entirely different. Karosky spent time at the Saint Matthew Institute in Maryland, where the local Catholic Church sent some of their child- (and substance-) abusing clergy. Karosky did not get the proper treatment there, and it sure looks like he has a lot of unresolved issues -- though in one of Gómez-Jurado's few clever ideas, it does turn out there's considerably more to the why behind the attacks than just Karosky trying to get something out of his system.
       Paola Dicanti works for the Department for the Analysis of Violent Crime which was set up "in 1995, with a specific focus on serial killers". It should tell readers something, however, that now, a decade later: "as of that moment, they had yet to solve a single case." Though technically 'solved' (they know who the killer is) readers have to suspend considerable disbelief to think that they could get their man here, too. But then this book requires great disbelief-suspending efforts in order to be digested at all. Karosky is one phenomenally brutal killer ("Nothing you have ever seen will prepare you for this" Paola is warned at the first crime scene, "It's absolutely demented, I promise you" ...). He's also an elusive one -- he acts pretty much right under the noses of those hunting him -- but Gómez-Jurado's fast-paced presentation make it all seem little more than cartoonish. (If anything, the book reads like a bloated B-movie script.)
       "This case was an absolute killer headache", Paola finds herself thinking at one point (while the reader still wonders how such godawful prose can get published). Part of the fun is meant to be that this isn't your usual police-procedural. Aside from getting assistance from the renegade American priest/spy, they have to deal with the ultra-secretive Vatican, which limits and hampers the investigation in numerous ways. So they have to be creative:
And forget about standard police procedure, because in the Vatican that's never going to happen. We'll have to play with the cards destiny has given us, however weak they may be.
       There are chases, confrontations (and not just with the killer), and many, many secrets. A journalist learns the truth, but, of course, it never gets out (one of the 'clever' things about the book is that it's meant to appear plausible -- i.e. it's presented as if all this could have happened in April, 2005 but no one ever heard about it ...).
       Gómez-Jurado also plays very loose with basic thriller-rules: his super-cop (Quantico-trained Paola !) comes across a piece of evidence on page 15 which only resurfaces on page 326: "How did I forget this ? It's evidence" Paola asks herself. Like almost everything in the book, it's also a ridiculous piece of evidence, but then by this point readers know to expect everything to be too clever by half.
       A thriller can have an over-the-top plot and still be an enjoyable read, but in that case the author has to offer other things: well-drawn characters, rich detail. Something, anyway. Unfortunately, Gómez-Jurado is an author whose writing is, at best, workmanlike and while his characters aren't flat they're hardly believable (did Fowler really have to be an heir to an enormous fortune ?). And while some of the ideas behind the story are good -- the sex-scandal and the treatment Karosky was subjected to, the Vatican intrigue -- none of it is developed well enough to impress much (or, indeed, excuse the rest of the book).
       God's Spy isn't unreadable -- the short, varied chapters (including flashbacks to events at the Saint Matthew Institute) and heaps of action (and bodies) can keep the reader occupied -- but it's not very good. It's like a very rough first draft of a novel, with much of it needing to be fleshed out, a few scenes needing to cut, and the prose requiring a lot of polishing.
       In no way recommended.

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God's Spy: Reviews: Juan Gómez-Jurado: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Juan Gómez-Jurado was born in 1977.

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© 2007-2008 the complete review

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