Book Review by Mary Patricia Henry of
Marrano by Randy Engel
Marrano by the well-known Catholic writer, Randy Engel, is a fictitious murder mystery that draws the reader into a deadly maelstrom of a plot against the Church as old as Christianity itself. For readers unacquainted with the word “Marrano,” the original term refers to a baptized Jew, that is a new Christian, in medieval Spain and Portugal, who falsely converts to Christianity in order to avoid expulsion, or persecution by the Inquisition, and continued to practice the Jewish religion in secret. The Inquisition did not have jurisdiction over unconverted Jews, but it did have jurisdiction over these new Christians as they were called. One of the primary characteristics of the Marrano was his or her obsessive hatred for the Catholic Church – not only for the papacy, but for all things Catholic, including the Blessed Trinity, the Sacraments, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin May and the saints.
The author, who has a long history as an investigative journalist, has stepped only slightly outside of her forte of penning scrupulously researched non-fiction articles and books based on Catholic themes.
In Marrano, Engel presents us with a quick paced action crime thriller that combines both her skill as a researcher with the purity of the Catholic Faith lived out in all it's true zeal and passion. Dry your tears Ian Fleming because James Bond never looked so good! Marrano takes the reader on a literal descriptive tour of the Vatican and Rome itself complete with car chases that rival any of the Bond scenes.
Set several pontificates into the future, the prologue to the book introduces the reader to a resurrected secret Marrano society known as the Order of the Sambenito, and its Grand Master, Victor da Costa, and sets the stage for the anticipated success of a one-hundred-year plot to replace the reigning pontiff with a Marrano pope. We are also introduced to two other leading antagonists, ex-Mossad assassin Dante Dressner and his partner in crime, Moe Guttman.
The hero of our story, Monsignor Antony Morello, is an ex-Marine and a late-vocation, street wise priest, born and raised in an Italian ghetto of New York. Tony Morello, who, by a stroke of God or as some would see as "fate,” is currently on a six-month sabbatical at his former Bronx parish, away from his post as Secretary to the Vatican’s chief archivist, Cardinal Tommaso Casanova. But his dream of a restful and uneventful vacation turns into a murderous nightmare when he encounters an elderly Marrano Catholic priest fleeing from da Costa and the Order’s hired assassins, who recruits Tony to help save the papacy.
The young priest meets his destiny head on with the strength of his personal faith and complete trust in God. And in doing so, he changes the lives and destinies of many along the way. Is his mission successful? You’ll have to read the book from the prologue to the last page of the epilogue to find out.
The size of the book, some 554 pages, might put some readers off. But alas, the format and content makes Marrano an all too quick read. Personally, this reviewer, who does not care much for novels, could not put the book down once I started my review. It became a personal evening treat for me when the family went to bed. Needless to say, I lost a lot of sleep while enjoying every chapter.
I think the author’s premises presented in Marrano are likely to stimulate the reader’s interest in earlier Catholic non-fiction books on Marranos including the pre-Vatican II classic, The Plot Against the Church.*
This book makes an excellent Christmas or New Year’s gift for any reader regardless of what his or her own personal religious beliefs are, but I believe it will be especially edifying and inspiring for faithful Catholics who are struggling to follow in the steps of the Apostles in the face of opposition from Christ’s eternal enemies.