A hound of heaven sniffing out crime

Black humour, a detective who’s theologically literate and a chimp called Django … A tax on atheism, monologues about mirror neurons and a chillingly Chandler-esque atmosphere … This literary thriller by Diego Marani has raised Catholic hackles and garnered good reviews. Dare you hunt God’s Dog down?

What are we talking about? Papal policeman Domingo Salazar is hot on the trail of pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia dissidents that the Vatican wants eradicated when he realises they are simultaneously targeting him for conceiving a global religion called Bible-Koranism.

Elevator pitchGod’s Dog is a unique detective novel set in a menacingly theocratic Italy where the Catholic Church employs secret operatives to silence dissent.

The buzz … “Catholic Noir” is the neat descriptor Kerryn Goldsworthy gives God’s Dog. She also writes that it’s hard-boiled and action-packed — “a uniquely Italian take on the dystopian genre, a relief after the flood from the Anglosphere”.

The talent … Diego Marani’s book New Finnish Grammar was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Award and the Best Translated Book Award. The Last of the Vostyachs was published 2013.

Judith Landry won the 2012 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for her translation of New Finnish Grammar.

In a nutshell … Domingo Salazar is “God’s Dog” in a sinister system where the Catholic Church holds ultimate power. He’s hunting down the Angels of Death, who are performing illegal abortions and euthanising terminally ill people suffering unbearable pain. Salazar must also thwart Ivan Zivago’s plot to ruin Pope Benedict XVIII’s canonisation and outsmart the church operatives who want him and his best friend Gunter rubbed out for their heretically threatening religious ideas.

Interesting quote to mull … Western man is no longer susceptible to conversion; he is like those germs which become resistant to antibiotics. He cannot quite believe, even despite himself; he is too sure of what he knows. We persist in trying to bring the Church closer to the people. We ought to be doing the reverse: making it more remote, not more accessible. Restoring a sense of mystery.

You’ll like it if … you think the idea of a Swahili-speaking chimpanzee called Django, who poses a threat to Church doctrine because if he can speak he might also have a soul, is cheeky rather than silly.

You’ll hate it if … Poking fun at institutionalised religion — even as cleverly as Marani does in this neatly-written spoof — is going one step too far.

Why read it? … Abandon those airport thrillers you can read with your eyes closed: This one requires grey cells.

The details

God’s Dog
Diego Marani, translated by Judith Landry
Text Publishing, $27.99

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