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Friday, 5 June 2020

‘Virgin & Child’ by Maggie Hamand

Published by Barbican Press,
2 April 2020. 
ISBN: 978-1-909954-34-2 (HB)

Virgin and Child is a book of many parts. It embraces several shades of crime fiction - part thriller, part mystery, part who-dun-it - whilst also expounding on several other themes, particularly theological ones and the different forms that love may take. For the most part the tale is set in and around the Vatican City in Rome over a period of about nine months.  

Pope Patrick is the first Irish Pope and he is very popular. He is only fifty-five, which is young for a pope, and is making a tour in St Peter’s Square when a young woman attacks him. He escapes with a few scratches but is shocked to learn that his attacker was one of his Irish cousins, Siobhan.  She is detained for mental assessment and when he visits her in hospital, she berates him on The Church’s strict opposition to abortion no matter what the circumstances. This controversy is a central strand of Virgin & Child and it provides a dramatic end to the book when, despite great and frequent temptation and personal involvement, Pope Patrick sticks to his principles on the sanctity of the life of an unborn child.

Pope Patrick has many enemies within the Vatican.  Chief among these is Cardinal Secretary of State, Romano, who had hoped to be elected Pope.  He is plotting to remove Patrick from power and has many followers. He, and many other cardinals, disagree with Patrick’s open approach and willingness to discuss the myriad of issues on sexuality and gender that continually bedevil The Church. However, Patrick has one very good friend, his first private secretary, Archbishop Thomas, who acts as his soul mate and protector. His second private secretary, Father Alfonso, is jealous of the close relationship between the two men.

Amidst much turmoil and strife in the Vatican, Patrick’s father dies and Patrick jets back to Ireland for the funeral. Here we learn much about his upbringing - generally cold and austere and often guided by shame and the importance of keeping up appearances.  He also meets Siobhan again. After three days in Ireland he has to return to the growing unrest in the Vatican.

A few months later he is delighted when Siobhan, now fully recovered from her mental trauma, and her husband arrive in Rome for a six month sabbatical.

This is a well-written, strange, and complex story. I think that any attempt to describe the central plot would ruin the experience for readers who wish to discover for themselves the unique and imaginative scenario portrayed within its covers. It conveys both the obvious frictions between the long-standing teachings of The Church and the more modern views of many of its followers, alongside the more personal conflicts and unstated feelings of hate and love that exist within the ruling hierarchy. It is a truly original story, and whilst it may upset some readers it will captivate many others. You will have to read it to see which camp you would fall into.
Reviewer:  Angela Crowther

Maggie Hamand is a novelist, non-fiction author and journalist. She has had two novels published, The Rocket Man and The Resurrection of the Body, as well as a number of short stories. In 1994 she won the first World One-Day Novel Cup at the Groucho Club with The Resurrection of the Body, which she subsequently expanded for Michael Joseph/Penguin and which has now been optioned for TV. She has been commissioned to write a film treatment and screenplay for this work. For the past five years Maggie has taught creative writing courses at Morley College and The Groucho Club. She has also undertaken one-to-one sessions to help writers at Centerprise Literature Development Project and from 2000-2001 she was Writer in Residence at Holloway Prison. Maggie is also co-director of a new small independent publishing company, The Maia Press, which publishes literary fiction. She is the author of 16 non-fiction books and has broadcast regularly on radio and TV. She has a Certificate in Psychodynamic Counselling from Birkbeck College and has recently completed a City and Guilds Certificate in Further and Adult Education.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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