Explosive in both its pace and its revelations, The Third Secret is a remarkable international thriller. Bestselling author Steve Berry tackles some of the most controversial ideas of our time in a breakneck journey through the history of the Church and the future of religion.
Fatima, Portugal, 1917: The Virgin Mary appears to three peasant children, sharing with them three secrets, two of which are soon revealed to the world. The third secret is sealed away in the Vatican, read only by popes, and not disclosed until the year 2000. When revealed, its quizzical tone and anticlimactic nature leave many faithful wondering if the Church has truly unveiled all of the Virgin Mary’s words–or if a message far more important has been left in the shadows.
Vatican City, present day: Papal secretary Father Colin Michener is concerned for the Pope. Night after restless night, Pope Clement XV enters the Vatican’s Riserva, the special archive open only to popes, where the Church’s most clandestine and controversial documents are stored. Though unsure of the details, Michener knows that the Pope’s distress stems from the revelations of Fatima.
Equally concerned, but not out of any sense of compassion, is Alberto Cardinal Valendrea, the Vatican’s Secretary of State,. Valendrea desperately covets the papacy, having narrowly lost out to Clement at the last conclave. Now the Pope’s interest in Fatima threatens to uncover a shocking ancient truth that Valendrea has kept to himself for many years.
When Pope Clement sends Michener to the Romanian highlands, then to a Bosnian holy site, in search of a priest–possibly one of the last people on Earth who knows Mary’s true message–a perilous set of events unfolds. Michener finds himself embroiled in murder, suspicion, suicide, deceit, and his forbidden passion for a beloved woman. In a desperate search for answers, he travels to Pope Clement’s birthplace in Germany, where he learns that the third secret of Fatima may dictate the very fate of the Church–a fate now lying in Michener’s own hands.
For Steve Berry, it's a fortuitous coincidence that his third novel, a Vatican-centered conspiracy thriller titled The Third Secret
, was published in the immediate aftermath of Pope Benedict XVI's anointment in Rome. While this exuberantly contrived yarn would likely have drawn an audience at any time, it benefits from coming before readers just after they've been primed with news reports about papal succession, the relative influence and legacy of pontiffs, and the increasing tug-of-war between Roman Catholic progressives and conservative traditionalists.
Set in the near future, Secret introduces Jakob Volkner--Pope Clement XV--a German "caretaker pope" who, nearing the age of 80, was elected as John Paul II's successor. But three years into his papacy, the thoughtful Clement has begun to quietly express skepticism about papal infallibility and the Church's restrictive dogma, and to make odd requests of his longtime secretary, Monsignor Colin Michener, an Irish-born but American-reared priest whose vows of celibacy have been tested--and found wanting. Clement has also made repeated visits to a guarded sanctum within the Vatican archives, where sacred and historic documents are stored. And he's dispatched Michener to Romania to locate an elderly cleric who, in the 1950s, translated three cryptic prophecies, purportedly offered by the Virgin Mary in 1917 to a trio of children in Fatima, Portugal. Those secrets have since been fully disclosed to the world. Or have they? That’s the question facing Michener in the wake of Clement's shocking suicide, as he pursues a twisted trail of clues, crimes, and religious forecasts from Rome to Bosnia to Germany, accompanied by his former lover, journalist Katerina Lew. But making any additional secrets known to the world will put Michener in confrontation with doctrinal reactionaries, led by Cardinal Alberto Valendrea, the Vatican's Italian secretary of state, who's determined to follow Clement as the Vicar of Christ--even if that requires inventing a few new sins and flouting a 900-year-old prediction of doom for the next pope.
Attorney-author Berry, praised previously for The Amber Room and The Romanov Prophecy, enriches The Third Secret with glimpses behind the locked doors of a papal selection process and knowledge of centuries-old Catholic prognostications that, while employed judiciously in these pages, nonetheless suggest a prodigious amount of research. He's less successful with his casting. Valendrea is a wincingly unnuanced scoundrel, and Ms. Lew achieves scarce definition beyond being a raven-tressed temptress to powerful prelates. Thankfully, Berry does better by Michener, who finds himself at a crossroads, carrying on in Clement's name even as he searches for confirmation that his own life of devotion and service has been meaningful. Although the secrets "revealed" in this tale seem more controversial than plausible, and a potentially intriguing subplot about the excommunication of a maverick priest ends up as a throwaway device, The Third Secret builds to a conclusion that is as suspenseful and stunning as it is inevitable. Have faith. --J. Kingston Pierce