My Father’s House – Joseph O’Connor (Harvill Secker 2023)

I am shamefacedly admitting I knew nothing about the inspiration for Irish writer Joseph O’Connor’s new novel – Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a Priest based at the Vatican at the time of Rome’s takeover by the Nazis who was responsible for the saving of some 6,500 lives through the Escape Line, which ran from the neutral Vatican City, housing and hiding soldiers, escaped Prisoners Of War, Jews and others the Nazi regime took against.

This is a fictional account which leads up to a mission, known as a Rendimento, planned for Christmas Eve 1943.  O’Flaherty was supported by a group who met on the pretext of choral singing and some of these are interviewed in the early 1960s and their accounts of what happened runs alongside a third person narrative.  O’Connor writes beautifully with multi-sensory descriptions being layered to build a picture of events and the tale he tells here is involving and often thrilling.  He seems more at pains to ensure we know we are reading fiction than the average historical novelist.  I might be wrong here but from a quick glance at the true events online I think he has changed the identity of the main threat to the mission, a German officer who viewed O’Flaherty as his nemesis.  If this is so, this fictional creation allows the author greater freedom in portraying the evil within this man.

Monsignor O’Flaherty is the lifeblood of this novel but I think I might have appreciated further fleshing out of some of the supporting characters within the choir.  From their interviews I wasn’t always clear who was talking and this narrative structure removed them slightly from the action although I do acknowledge that anonymity at this time was a prerequisite for survival.

I was impressed by this strong novel but I must admit that it didn’t quite get me the way the author’s evocative recreation of a Victorian theatrical world inhabited by Bram Stoker in 2019’s “Shadowplay” did which made it into my Top 5 Books of that year.

My Father’s House will be published on 26th January by Harvill Secker.  Many thanks  to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.

Dominus – Tom Fox (Headline 2015) – A Running Man Review


Interesting marketing concept this.  Although this is Tom Fox’s debut published novel two “digital shorts” – a prequel and sequel are also available as e-books.  Fox has a background of academic research on the Church and puts it to good use here.

During a Sunday morning mass officiated by the Pope at St Peter’s Basilica a stranger enters the building and approaches the Pontiff.  After some words the Pope, who has been crippled since birth. stands up straight for the first time in his life.  The Vatican City goes into lock-down after this and the world is rocked by news of other “miracles”.

Central character Alexander Trecchio is a poorly regarded religious correspondent for La Repubblica and an ex-Priest.  Sent to research the story he encounters men who have obviously been silenced.  He enlists the help of old flame Police Inspector Gabriella Fierro to find out if the world is in the grip of some kind of a second coming or an elaborate conspiracy.

Much of this would seem familiar to fans of the adventure novel genre for whom conspiracy within the Catholic Church is a staple.  Fox offers a new twist with a stronger reliance on the concept of faith and the nature of miracles and if the reader is able to buy into this a little it is an entertaining read.  The book has pace and reads well but for me lacks the plausibility factor of some of the best in its genre.  Not too long ago I read Michael Benoit’s “The Thirteenth Apostle” written also by someone with a background in theological studies and I felt he managed to use this to get a stronger feeling of authenticity and avoided with his struggle between good and evil the trap of having the evil seem cartoonish.  I’m not convinced Fox avoided this struggle.

It also recalled a reading of Thomas Gifford’s 2004 novel “The Assassini”, another tale of church corruption within a Vatican City setting which was memorable only because of the length of time it took me to plod through it, but “Dominus” is considerably more successful – so all in all I’m wavering somewhat in the middle.  It’s an enjoyable book for adventure fans and a welcome new read in a genre which became saturated after the success of Dan Brown and has now calmed down to seeing only those that are stronger or offering something slightly different being published.  I don’t think this will kick-start a publishing fervour along the lines of “The Da Vinci  Code” (Dan Brown still referenced on the cover of “Dominus).  I would be interested to see what the digital only “Genesis” and “Exodus” add to the mix, however.



Dominus was published by Headline in 2015.  Many thanks to the publishers and Bookbridgr for the review copy.