The Vatican desires it, the Germans need it, secret societies will kill for it & the British PM…..well, he just wants it gone. What are they squabbling over? A little scrap of paper covered with faded words. Hardly impressive until it’s identified as a previously unknown first century gospel.
The year is 1892 & there are whispers of growing xenophobia in Germany. The new government craves international respect & owning the new gospel will get the world’s attention. But before they can put it on display, it’s stolen by a British spook who hightails it for London. Unfortunately he barely has time to set foot on English soil before he’s murdered quite…um…thoroughly. But he did have time to stash away a satchel which will soon become the hottest item in the country.
The PM is well aware of his country’s cooling relationship with Germany. To him, the gospel is little more than a political hot potato & he decides to hand it over to the Vatican & let them deal with it. The problem is different factions are keeping an eye on his agents, just waiting for their chance. What he needs is someone unknown to them who can deliver the gospel into the right hands. Hmmm…who ya gonna call?
Private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker takes a summons from the PM’s office in stride but partner Thomas Llewelyn is less sanguine. So he’s relieved when they’re told it’s a simple job. Deliver one satchel to waiting Vatican officials. What could possibly go wrong? Ah me, where to begin.
Mysterious men in blue uniforms, snake oil preachers, masked assassins, a Hapsburg heir….it seems everyone & their Aunt Martha comes out of the woodwork to foil their plans. But if you’re a fan of the series, you know Barker always has a few dozen aces up his sleeve. Luckily we get to go along for the ride as he & Thomas risk their hides in another clever, twisty adventure.
As usual Thomas is our narrator & he tells the story in a pacy, descriptive style injected with dry humour. Victorian London provides an atmospheric backdrop & I enjoyed catching up with the regular cast. Thomas finally married Rebecca & she has a larger role in this outing. Unfortunately not everyone in the Jewish community is happy with her choice. She’s basically been shunned & there’s a certain irony in how she & Thomas are treated in light of Germany’s emerging mistreatment of Jews.
Real life events are mixed into the story & people are blissfully unaware that it’s the beginning of tensions that will lead to the Great War. Barker is recovering from injuries he incurred in the last book but is otherwise on top of his game. He’s as devious & enigmatic as ever, much to Thomas’ frustration. Just wait ’til you find out how he delivered the gospel. Genius.
It’s a smart, well plotted mystery full of colourful characters that add so much to the narrative. Their personal relationships & situations have evolved over the series & there are more changes in store. These books are on my annual read list & I’ll be waiting on the next one. Kudos to those responsible for another gorgeous cover.