The Debt – Glenn Cooper

GLENN Cooper was one of the authors who arrived on the coat-tails of Dan Brown with tales of ancient conspiracies rocking the Christian Church to its foundations.

He was one of the best, his Keepers of the Library trilogy packed with intriguing ideas, page-turning plots and satisfying endings.

Now the genre has died down – even Da Vinci Code author Dan is a pale shadow of his past supremacy – but Cooper still knows how to tell a tale.

The trouble is, with his third Cal Donovan thriller, the tale isn’t really worth telling.

I haven’t read the previous two Donovan novels, but basically he’s a Harvard professor specialising in the history of the Roman Catholic Church who befriended the Pope while helping the Vatican with a couple of thorny problems.

This time, while researching in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, he uncovers a reference to money that Pope Pius VIII borrowed from a Jewish bank 200 years ago.

Over the years the interest has accumulated, meaning the present-day value is €25 billion, enough to bankrupt the entire Church worldwide.

The secret is potentially explosive for the Vatican – but a damp squib when it comes to a concept for a thriller. An unpaid debt doesn’t rank up there with the Turin Shroud, Mary Magdelene’s secret lover or the truth about Adam and Eve.

Cooper summons up murderous bad guys in both the Vatican and the bank, and throws in some inter-faith antagonism, but it’s all a bit contrived.

The story is at its most interesting when Cooper takes us back in time to witness the setting up of the original loan amidst a city at war.

But that strand finishes halfway through the book, leaving us with lacklustre attempts on Donovan’s life and half-hearted attempts to generate worldwide panic.

Three weeks after putting down the book, I can’t remember whether I actually finished it.

David Knights