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City of Secrets: The Truth Behind the Murders at the Vatican Hardcover – January 7, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (January 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066209544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066209548
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,058,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On May 4, 1998, Col. Alois Estermann, commander of the Swiss Guards, the Vatican force that protects the pope, was found shot dead in his apartment inside Vatican City, along with his wife. Also shot dead in the room was a young Swiss guardsman, Cedric Tornay. Three hours after the bodies were discovered, the Vatican released a statement naming Tornay as the killer, his motive a "fit of madness." Not so fast, thought Follain, author (Jackal, etc.) and Rome-based correspondent for the Sunday Times of London, who also figured that investigating the story would allow him insight into Vatican ways. This book presents his findings, written as a first-person investigation. This technique generates moderate suspense, as Follain follows up leads, interviews tangential figures in the case (the man who succeeded Estermann as head of the Swiss Guards, assorted clerics, the accused killer's mother et al.), and it allows for vivid firsthand accounts of the Vatican and its officials, as well as of London, Paris and Switzerland, where Follain's digging also took him. As Follain turns up evidence-mostly circumstantial and anecdotal-that the murders were more complicated than the Vatican opined, including apparent ties between Estermann and the conservative group Opus Dei and a possible homosexual affair between Estermann and Tornay, and as his outrage grows, his writing turns more lurid: his portrait of Monsignor Alois Jehle, chaplain to the Swiss Guards, which closes this account, drips with personal distaste. While by no means an objective account, then, the book does provide unusual access to inner Vatican circles and demonstrates that even those busy in pursuit of the divine can be human, perhaps all too human. 16 page b&white photo insert.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

"Filled with explosive revelations!" screeches the publicity, so Follain, a Rome-based correspondent for London's Sunday Times, had better deliver. Follain insists that the Vatican engaged in a huge cover-up in 1998 after the commander of the Swiss Guard, his wife, and a vice corporal were found dead, evidently victims of a double murder/suicide.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

I recommend you not pass it up.
brent howell
I like the writing style it's just that it should have made a long news magazine article not a full length book.
Jesse S. Walker
Unfortunately, Follain is determined to narrate the book while revealing very little of himself.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on April 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
John Follain investigates the deaths of three people in the heart of the Vatican, including a young soldier and the commander of the pope's famous Swiss Guards. The evidence he finds is neither surprising nor inconsistent with the original statement about the circumstances of the death as presented the Vatican. What's interesting is how he finds his evidence and how what was not said in the original inquiry led to the pursuit of a better explanation. In the process, Follain's story reads more like Robert Ludlum mystery or a Nelson DeMille travelogue, as he tracks down people, asks first innocent then probing questions, and effectively if incompletely re-constructs the story behind the deaths.
The Catholic Church and no less the Vatican has been severely damaged by its own secrecy and secrets. While some stories are not worth taking public, an obsession with secrecy produces more distrust than does the hard, candid side of the story. Homosexuality and Opus Dei, two sometimes tawdry secrets of the church, get an airing here, and the most saddening point is the self-illusion of secrecy the church seems intent on maintaining.
Follain also finds that the storied Swiss Guards are much more ceremonial window-dressing than an effective security or intelligence force. The members of this small cadre, the ones Follain contacts, most of them disillusioned or discontented, make a pretty strong case that some men join the Guards for the wrong reasons and the Guard itself seems to be used for the wrong reasons. Tradition seem more important than a clear mission.
It is the misunderstanding and misapplication that lie behind the story of the three deaths. Although the conclusion is not dramatic, neither is it melodramatic. And it is candid and honest, not a Hollywood screenplay, not a sanitized version, and not what the mother of one of the victim's might want. And, in the telling, there is something worth reading.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Putting it mildly, John Follain knows the territory when it comes to writing about the Vatican.
In addition to serving as a Rome-based correspondent for London's Sunday Times, he was able to get behind the scenes in Vatican City and conduct his own investigation into the shocking deaths of three people in the Vatican in 1998.
"No one can remember witnessing an episode of such violence inside the city-state," writes Follain.
City of Secrets, which reads like a fast-moving novel, is as much about the inner workings of the Vatican -- the Swiss Guard in particular -- as it is about the deaths themselves. It sounds strange to say this about a true story but, if I write more, I'll give the "plot" away.
Follain does a good job of bringing the main people in this matter to life, and his ultimate conclusions are, by turns, simpler and more complex than the Vatican's "official story".
this is a book you'll sail through, and at the end, you'll appreciate the author's investigative efforts as much as his writing ability. You'll also have a good sense of how conspiracy theories come into being, and grow, because of officialdom's reluctance to come clean.
-- Ed Halloran,
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The problem with nonfiction crime writing is exactly what the genre implies --- there's no making things up. While authors like James Patterson or Sue Grafton can decide to swap murderers on a whim if something isn't working, true crime scribes such as Ann Rule or John Berendt have no such prerogative. They transcribe just the facts, ma'am. And that is the predicament with a book like John Follain's CITY OF SECRETS.
Follain, the Rome correspondent for London's Sunday Times, is a nonfiction veteran best known for chronicling Carlos the Jackal. In his latest effort, Follain investigates the May 1998 slayings of three people connected to the Swiss Guard, the pope's protectors: the unit's commander, his wife and a lance corporal. The official Vatican explanation, released within hours of the deaths, was that young Cédric Tornay murdered Colonel Alois Estermann and his wife, Gladys Meza Romero, in a fit of madness. While the Vatican effectively canonizes Estermann, it vilifies Tornay to the point of denying his mother access to the official inquiry.
Like any good reporter, Follain smelled a story when the Vatican dismissed the case so perfunctorily. He spent three years investigating "what really happened," interviewing current and former Swiss Guard members, Catholic clergy of all levels and forensic experts. Unfortunately, Follain did not seem to realize, upon the finish of his exhaustive research, that there wasn't much of a story.
The book is billed as the untold story behind an unsolved crime. Yet there aren't many revelations in Follain's book, other than the fact that the archaically constructed Catholic Church has not changed with the times.
Read more ›
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The story shocked the world -- the commander of the Swiss Guard, a young Guardsman and the commander's wife, a former model, were found dead in the commander's apartment. All had been shot.
It was the most gruesome violence in the Vatican since the Middle Ages...Doubts about the Vatican version, expressed in screaming headlines, began almost as soon as the ink dried on the official report, and John Follain, who once covered the Vatican for Reuters, began his own investigation.
It took him more than three years, trips to a half-dozen countries and enough cloak-and-dagger stuff to fill a spy novel. The result is not a surprise solution but an indictment: It's a little like Perry Mason, with his last-minute bombshells, giving way to Columbo, plodding doggedly along, digging up secrets and fitting them together.
In the end, "Secrets" is an account of the way an institution closed to outside scrutiny, obsessed with secrecy and hostile to contradiction, protects itself in times of crisis.
It starts with information itself, a currency that is tightly-controlled and spent very carefully in the smallest nation in the world. Rivalries, jealousies, fears and egos collide and collude, and, as Follain discovered, collaborate when under fire.
He did manage to talk to some interesting characters at the Vatican, some with limited access to the Pope and other people who really count.
Out of these conversation, Follain put together a picture of a demoralised, unprepared Swiss Guard, a Pope weakened and isolated and a bureaucracy driven by self-interest and ambition.
The Vatican's version of events was a piece of hasty business. Follain's judgement, reached more leisurely and painstakingly, is a damning, but not in the dark and devious ways that conspiracy buffs expected.
-- Bill Bell, New York Daily News
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