Thrillers and secret societies seem to be a perpetual trend. What lies behind this fascination?
The first thing I’d like to say is that while I am a terrific fan of a good secret-society thriller, Dominus is a story that I wrote, in part, to challenge some of the assumptions of that genre. It’s not really a secret-society thriller, not in any normal sense. Though there is a society in the book that is definitely secretive and has a part to play in the plot, one of the areas the story explores is whether such groups really are at the heart of things when conspiracy is afoot, or whether “secret societies of power” are just as gullible as any other group, just as easily played and ultimately just as insignificant.
There is a perpetual fascination with secret societies, in particular those with connections to the Vatican, which is the setting I chose for Dominus. This is understandable, since in some sense the whole Vatican is a kind of secret society of its own sort: a culture that exists in the midst of the modern world yet is literally walled off from it, a society and political machine that is intrinsically public-facing and on display, yet one in which much of what actually “runs the machine” takes place behind closed doors impenetrable to most of the world. It is an environment to which not everyone has access, and it has been—in one way or the other—at the heart of world politics, religion, and power for two thousand years. Of course it is going to have its own secrets, which inspire curiosity, suspicion, even fear. And so it has, century after century.
But it’s right where expectation seems to lead us so convincingly, so compellingly, that I find the draw to play. Of course we expect that there are secrets and lies behind those dark corridors, even as we acknowledge there are good people and noble ambitions as well; of course we expect a story that takes place in the Vatican to reveal centuries-old plots and designs. But what if, in the midst of all that expectation, something wholly different took place? What if the very things that we expect are what others count on, what they’re willing and ready to manipulate, in order for something wholly unexpected to be set up?
That’s the territory I wanted to play with in my novel and I hope American readers will find the book engaging for just that reason. Right from the opening pages, when a jeans-clad stranger walks into a papal mass at St. Peter’s and does the impossible, I wanted questions to be mounted as fast as the page turns. Are there dark forces at work? Or incomprehensible good? Devious secrets or strangely revealing truth?
Sometimes, the case may just be that the biggest secrets are those that are held out in the open, and the most compelling mysteries are those that don’t require secret meetings but take place in the bright light of day.