AUTHOR TOM FOX ON THE INSIDER’S WORLD OF THE VATICAN
Tom Fox writes high-octane conspiracy thrillers that lead readers into a web of intrigue and mystery – and question the natural, the supernatural, and the nature of human manipulation – while attaching modern scenarios to some of the world’s most ancient sites.
Posted on June 14, 2017 in Guest Author, The Motive
My first novel Dominus began with a single image. The heart of the Vatican: a papal Mass at St Peter’s, with the full clerical entourage of cardinals, bishops and priests surrounded by the Swiss Guard. Around them, throngs of faithful and curious visitors, a choir’s Latin song echoing from the dome – and into the midst of it all, with Bernini’s awe-inspiring Baldacchino soaring overhead, walks an ordinary man in blue jeans. A man who, without saying a word, silences the crowd and choir, whose progress through the sea of bodies is unordinary and improper, but whom no one is willing to stop. A man who, in this heartland of the extraordinary, holds his surroundings captive with silence, and then his unexpected words. And the world starts to change.
And the question that follows: what would the world do?
The authorial part of me wishes I could claim this image was the fruit of some creative scene-plotting or crafted storytelling, but the reality is more visceral. It’s the image that came to me through an encounter the first time I visited the Vatican, many years ago – almost at the first instant I stepped into St Peter’s. The context was tremendously powerful. I remember walking through the doors amidst a sea of tourists, and like everyone else being awe-struck. There is so much grandeur in that place, so much glory, and I craned my neck to try to take it all in. But then I noticed a small man, a worker emptying a dustbin, and a strange thought was suddenly overwhelming. Everything about this place speaks to the glorious expectation of what power and authority will look like – but what if it appeared, in these same walls, not in the shape of the magnificent statues or renaissance masterpieces that adorn it, but in the shape of this little, ordinary man? How would people react if he were to walk up to the centre of the Church, passing through ranks of guards and clerics in robes – even the pope himself – and show himself to possess an authority none of them could comprehend? How would people respond to this inversion of power? Would it stir them to good, or to evil?
I’ve been back to the Vatican countless times since that first visit – as a tourist, as a researcher, as a guest – but that image has never faded. And the questions have only grown more intriguing.
When I knew I wanted to tell the story of the stranger at the centre of Dominus, I knew in the same moment it couldn’t take place anywhere but in that setting that gave it birth. The novel grew out of my own reflections on what the reaction would be to such an event. Humankind has proven itself predictably good and evil, and whenever something emerges that inspires hope, it seems in the same breath to evoke greed, manipulation and the lust for power. We are a race prone to seeing conspiracies everywhere, at least in part because we’re so consistently prone to being conspiratorial in our behaviour. And that’s what I wanted to play with as an author – that sense of conspiracy, that innate mischievousness in humanity, and our propensity to favour secrets over open facts and lies over truths.
And so the little man in the Vatican was the catalyst for a story that, I hope, has mixed the kind of conspiratorially-minded thrills I love – with twists and tensions that are every bit as complex as the people involved in them – with the majesty of a place resonating power and glory, all of which might be threatened by a stranger no one expects. I’ve had the opportunity to incorporate some of the majesty and mystery of the Vatican into that storytelling in a way that I hope evokes the same atmosphere I experience when I’m there . . . with perhaps a little more killing, plotting and scheming that takes place there on a daily basis.
Tom’s new novel The Seventh Commandment centres on a mystery that goes to the heart of the Catholic Church, although the terrifying consequences reach far beyond the world of the Vatican and across the city of Rome.