Review of The Devil’s Prayer, by Luke Gracias

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A blurb tells us that admirers of The Da Vinci Code will enjoy this book. As I am immune to the genre of Vatican hit-men, I’d not have begun The Devil’s Prayer had it not been @ the suggestion of a GR friend, & never had stayed with it had not the earlier part been set in Australia, specifically Queensland. By the time the Devil (that’s right, Auld Hornie himself, wearing a fedora hat – when I was young wearing hats was something Australian men did) I was firmly hooked & had to see this one through to the end. The story is told in two time frames through the device of a diary, found @ an austere Spanish convent (they go in for penitential rites like flagellation) by a young woman named Siobhan, whose mother Denise had sold their souls to the Devil in exchange for wreaking revenge on her ‘friends’ who live on the Gold Coast who raped her, tortured her, & left her a quadriplegic to obtain her winning lottery ticket. After receiving diabolical cure (the Devil is good with spinal injuries), Denise travels under the mentorship of an elderly priest to a monastery in the Middle Eastern desert when she learns to copy ancient manuscripts containing terrifying prophecies (for reasons I don’t understand, one contains ancient illustrations of future environmental catastrophes, but with English captions In contemporary script – any 2nd year Greek student could have provided more authentic-looking labels).

Since mum is damned anyway, I’d thought she’d have chosen just to have fun rather than undertaking this austere regimen, but apparently daughter Siobhan gets damned too if she doesn’t. If you are old enough to remember such classics as Rosemary’s Baby (right, Siobhan is not Denise’s only child, there’s also Jessie, conceived by Satan in the guise of Denise’s husband Simon whilst she’s about to kill him), The Omen, The Seventh Seal, as well as Dan Brown’s opus, you’ll be on familiar territory with The Devil’s Prayer.

Tho’ even the most bizarre forms of folk Catholicism are staid by comparison, popular supernatural fiction & movies are supplied with an idiosyncratic heretical theology of their own. Basically it’s Manichaean, a label secular journalists like to slap onto any Christian who can tell right from wrong, but which properly means the belief that not only does Satan enjoy equal footing with God, but that so far is our earthly life on this planet is concerned, runs the whole show. On the mundane level, in popular culture the Vatican employs an elite secret service capable of the elaborate skullduggery. (Remarkable for a mini-state apparently incapable of running a high-street bank successfully.) Here they are called the Amalrican Monks (hardly very secret as they go about in bright red habits seizing young women @ railway stations) named for Arnaud Amalric, a nasty Cistercian who played a role in the Albigensian Crusade.

There is just enough information about real manuscript finds & scriptoria – I confess I’d never heard of the Codex Gigas before, sounds interesting – to provide a plausible flavor to this almost hilariously OTT tale. I wish the author Luke Gracias had thrown in a little Latin (‘Caedite eos. Novit Dominus qui sunt eius’ would have done nicely) & Greek to flavour a very spicy pot, tho’ the ingredients are overcooked & a bit past their sell-by dates.

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