The scandals surrounding the Vatican Bank and the allegations that it has laundered money for the Mafia provide the inspiration for two novels.
"The Abomination," first installment in a trilogy by Jonathan Holt (HarperCollins, 435 pages) takes aim at the all male clergy of the Roman Catholic Church as well as Italian culture which, according to the author, tolerates organized crime to such a degree that it is part of the "national character."
The story takes place in Venice and centers around Captain Katerina Tapo
of the Italian Carabinieri who is called in to investigate a bizarre murder. The victim, a Croatian woman named Jelena Babic, is found dressed as a priest, hence the title which refers to the Catholic Church's view that women's ordination is an abomination.
Captain Tapo finds herself confronting both the Mafia and the American intelligence community. She teams up with Lt. Holly Boland, who suspects that the war in the Balkans was created by NATO for self-serving purposes following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The two find evidence of U.S. involvement in that horrible conflict. With help from Daniele Barbo, a computer hacker and creator of Carnivia.com, a website which zealously protects the privacy of its users, the women are able to elude dangerous predator drone strikes as they uncover the unsavory truth about the war in Bosnia where genocide and rape of women were strategies of war.
From this region, which still bears the atrocities of war, they track the newest outrage - an organized criminal pipeline trafficking women to Italy for forced prostitution.
The title refers to the Roman Catholic belief that the ordination of women to the priesthood is illicit, and therefore, an abomination. The author's contention that this prohibition is simply the punishment of women for Eve's sin misses the mark.
It is the "felix culpa" or sin of Adam that is cited in the Easter Vigil. Just as Adam's sin brought death into the world, Christ, the new Adam, brings eternal salvation.
In his humanity, Christ is masculine, thus, only a male may serve as an image of Christ. The Church uses the analogy that just as only a woman can be a biological mother, only a man can be a spiritual father and Christ addressed God as father, such are the roots of the all male priesthood.
Yet the character of the woman priest, Jelena Babic, may be based on the life of Ludmila Javorova, a woman who had been ordained a priest by Bishop Felix Davidek during the Soviet occupation of the former Czechoslovakia.
In a wider context, Jonathan Holt's novel highlights a very real war on women - from the odious double standard, which is so pervasive in Catholic culture, to the hideous practice of human trafficking and the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Daniel Silva returns with his Israeli intelligence agent turned art restorer, Gabriel Allon, in his latest work "The Fallen Angel" (HarperCollins, 448 pages)
Professor Claudia Andreatti, an authority on Egyptian and Etruscan antiquities, is found dead in the Vatican. The official word is that she committed suicide, but the Pope's private secretary suspects that she was murdered as she had been conducting a secret investigation concerning the provenance of the Vatican's vast collection of antiquities.
Gabriel finds that Claudia Andreatti had unearthed evidence that a member of the Vatican Bank was laundering money gained from the selling of stolen antiquities.
Much like Jonathan Holt's novel "The Abomination," Daniel Silva's "Fallen Angel," which begins at the Vatican, is not exactly a celebration of Italian culture as revealed in this passage from his character Veronica Marchese, who says: "Unfortunately, most of us have a criminal in the family tree. I'm afraid it is the curse of Italy."
From Rome, the network of the illegal trade in antiquities leads to the Middle East - to Jerusalem - where a fanatical Muslim cleric plans to bring about Armageddon just as the Pope arrives to celebrate Holy Week, walking the same Via Dolorosa as Jesus Christ.
In a story which is riveting and informative, Daniel Silva's latest Gabriel Allon adventure highlights the paradox which is the Holy Land and the ancient City of Jerusalem, a place claimed by the three great religions of the West.
This ancient land of beauty and tragedy, which inspires both religious fervor and fanaticism bears the promise of salvation - and the very real threat of Apocalyptic destruction.