Interview for Diário de Notícias
Portugal, 8th October 2016
1. The Vatican became the Paradise of thriller authors. Did you find it impossible to avoid such a subject?
JRS – Not impossible, but difficult. In fact I had long ago decided not to write a novel set in the Vatican. But when I watched on television the ceremonies celebrating the beginning of Pope Francis pontificate I was impressed by all the magnificence, the history, the rituals, the colours, the glamour around the Papacy, and I found it so scenic and grandiose that I thought it would really provide a marvelous setting for a novel. That’s how the idea of writing Vaticanum occurred to me.
2. What about the prophecies you use in the book?
JRS – Prophecies are a diferent affair. There are many prophecies about the murder of the Pope, including Fátima’s and St Malachy’s, and they really provided a wonderful hook for the plot.
3. What’s more dangerous: the lack of ethics in the Holy See, its links to the mafia or the threats by ISIS against the Pope?
JRS – I can’t decide what’s worse. All that is bad. In fact the non fictional subject of the novel is the corruption in the Holy See. The corruption stories in the book, involvings the papacy, the mafia and politicians, are not a product of my imagination. They are true stories. And they are depressing. I think one learns a lot by reading this book.
4. Is ISIS a real threat to the Pope?
JRS - Certainly. In September 2016 ISIS announced that the Pope is Islam’s number one enemy. Not the US President or the Israeli Prime-Minister. The Pope. There have been many threats by Islamic extremists against the Pope, and in that particular subject I based my novel on true events.
5. You present a huge bibliography at the end of the novel. Is that needed to provide credibility to the plot?
JRS – All the books quoted at the end of Vaticanum were used for research. Obviously, to tell the true story of the Vatican’s connections to the mafia and the political system I needed a lot of research.
6. Was the research for this novel harder than for your other novels?
JRS – My readers know that all my novels involve a lot of research. Vaticanum was no exception.
7. Let’s come back to the Fátima prophecies that you included in the book. Do you believe they are true?
JRS – I’m not a mystical person, I am a man of science and reason. But these prophecies do exist and they have an impact on the lives of many people. And Popes believe in them.
8. The subject of religion is very much present in your books. Is it a sign of times?
JRS - Vaticanum is not a novel about religion, it’s a novel about corruption in the Church. In fact, my only novels about religion are The Wrath of God, on radical Islam, The Last Secret, on the discoveries made by historians on Jesus, and the Lotus Trilogy, about political religions such as Marxism, Fascism and Nazism. All my other novels are not about religion. The God Formula, titled The Einstein Enigma in the English translation, despite its title is not a novel on religion, but on science and philosophy.
9. You have a soft spot for ciphers. Are they helpful for the plots?
JRS - Tomás Noronha is a criptanalist, so it’s inevitable, even mandatory, that his adventures involve ciphers. If I get a hero who is a detective, it would be inevitable for his adventures to involve crimes, don’t you think? Bear in mind that my other novels, the historical ones, do not involve ciphers. But I do enjoy the riddles in Tomás’ stories, they challenge the hero and interact with the reader. When faced with ciphers, the reader has the chance of solving the mistery before Tomás does it. Thus, the reader becomes a character and I think this is a very interesting way of structuring a piece of fiction.
10. Tomás became involved with Maria Flor. Was this necessary to attract women for your books?
JRS - Tomás was becoming a sort of D. Juan and I thought he needed to stabilize his emotional life. Maria Flor first showed up in Tomás’ third adventure, The Seventh Seal, but only recently did their relationship evolve into a love affair.