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Published by Barbican Press, 2 April 2020. ISBN:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Hamandis 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 Crowtheris 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.