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BG:RollinsWith admiral serendipity, the publication of The Blood Gospel, a fast-paced thriller centrally concerned with the purported existence of a gospel written by Christ in His own blood and said to reveal the secret of His divinity, narrowly preceded Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. The Vatican and its tradition of mystery were thrown into the spotlight during the selection process for the new Pope, providing both fertile and topical ground for The Blood Gospel’s intriguingly macabre twist on Vatican history.

The secrecy behind the inner workings of the Vatican has made it a source of welcome (practically gratuitous) glamour as a setting for many authors: An antique desk in a Vatican hallway was substituted for one of Lovejoy’s well-crafted fakes in Jonathan Gash’s The Vatican Rip; young Meggie’s Father Ralph weathered its politics in Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds; Dan Brown created a bold religious conspiracy complete with a deadly secret society in The DaVinci Code; Gabriel Allon, Daniel Silva’s Israeli spy/art conservator, has restored paintings in the Vatican’s collection; and Steve Berry’s former agent-turned-bookseller Cotton Malone has been pursued across its grounds. Rollins and Cantrell have raised the bar: They’ve gone into the Vatican’s ranks and contrived a new order of otherworldly priests, the Sanguines, that battle other supernatural forces in their simultaneous pursuit of the Vatican’s most enigmatic artifact, the Blood Gospel.

Rhun Korza is one of the oldest Sanguinists. Born to the Order in violence and redeemed by a promise and an unusual form of medicine, his new powers make him both a servant of God and a guardian of his own base proclivities. Sent to the ruins of Masada in Israel to retrieve the most sacred relic in Vatican lore, his mission forces a confrontation with an old enemy and creates a new alliance with forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Granger and Special Forces Sargeant Jordan Stone. I started reading the first few chapters of this novel from a free download supplied by the author in his newsletter. It was 11p when I finished and, instead of being primed for sleep, I needed to read more. With reluctant joy, I remembered that I could put the novel on my laptop in seconds. I’d never purchased an e-book before this night (and I don’t own an e-reader). I don’t have anything against them, it’s just that I prefer to hold the bound version—I keep a pencil handy to circle and correct mistakes as I find them (otherwise, they hold up the flow) or scribble notes in the margins. It says quite a lot that I was moved to surmount a small prejudice in order to finish this novel and I enjoyed every bit of it.

This is the first collaboration between James Rollins, the prolific author of his Sigma Force series (adventures of military scientists but that’s a major oversimplification), numerous stand-alone thrillers, and a time-traveling series for children; and Rebecca Cantrell, the award-winning creator of two series: a mystery/spy series based around the exploits of crime reporter Hannah Vogel in 1930s Germany and the innovative iMonster books (written as Bekka Black) that bring new technology to some old horrors. It’s an excellent literary match.

The Blood Gospel is the first book of a proposed trilogy; find out more about this series and new projects from each author at their websites: http://www.jamesrollins.com/ and http://rebeccacantrell.com/.