The Priest's Madonna

Amy Hassinger, Author . Putnam $23.95 (318p) ISBN 978-0-399-15317-4

A historical romance that mixes literary heft and pop-fiction indulgence, Hassinger's ambitious second novel (following Nina: Adolescence ) makes for a busy, derivative read. Marie Dernanaud, raised a religious skeptic, is immediately attracted to Bérenger Saunière, the devout, charismatic priest who takes over the parish of her small town, Rennes-le-Château, in the 1890s. While hiding their dangerous affection for each other behind arguments over religion and revolution, Marie, who narrates, and Bérenger oversee their church's renovation, which turns up some curious artifacts: a map, a book and an ancient stone carving that might hold a Da Vinci –esque code. (Wearyingly, the stuff does in fact have its origins with the Knights Templar.) With the help of the enigmatic mayor's wife, Madame Simone Laporte, Marie tries to piece together the mystery of the church, but Bérenger has confessed that he's being fed a steady diet of cash by a powerful financier who wants access to whatever they find—including possible proof of a bloodline (here's Simone's interest) descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Hassinger believably conveys Bérenger's transformation from gentle clergyman to angry, corrupt doubter, and mixes in some tantalizing ancient doings in Judea, but all the competing interests sap the dynamism from Marie, who never achieves a distinct voice. (Apr. )

Reviewed on: 01/30/2006
Release date: 04/01/2006
Genre: Fiction
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