This is an interesting novel in a popular genre. A scholarly Australian Anglican priest recovering from personal trauma travels to Rome to give a lecture on what should be a fairly dry topic. Instead of engaging in academic debate, however, Fr Jotham Fletcher is catapulted into a world of intrigue and danger. There are mad monks, secret societies, sinister priests and criminal syndicates hunting for the priest who slowly comes to realize that he has stumbled into a secret that could change the course of history. Along the way, he falls in love with a beautiful Italian woman who is an authority on ancient manuscripts, drives a Fiat in a way which is reckless and furious even by Italian standards and survives torture and temptation. It all moves at a great pace.
Pace is actually one of the strengths of the writing. The story moves well and Toni Pike handles the narrative line well. A cross country dash to reach a private jet on a disused runway is particularly well done. Toni Pike also brings a strong sense of place to the setting of the novel with convincing scenes in Rome, Derbyshire and Stockholm. The two principal characters [Jotham and Donatella] have depth and remain interesting throughout the novel. There are twists and turns right to the last page and the conclusion sets the reader up a sequel. The novel is cinematic and could well translate to film.
The flaws in the novel are principally those of the genre. [In this, Dan Brown has a lot to answer for.] As long as one can settle for the conventions of this genre, one won't be troubled by pantomime monks, a venal Italian police captain and powerful secret societies that survive in the shadows for thousands of years. It's an enjoyable first novel and a good debut for this Australian writer.