The Caravaggio Conspiracy

By: Walter Ellis

Publication Date: May 2012

(5 customer reviews)


The Caravaggio Conspiracy by Walter Ellis

Caravaggio was the greatest artist since Titian, a favourite of Popes and wealthy bankers. But at a time when the resurgent Ottoman Empire was planning a second wave of conquest, he discovered a secret so dark that it threatened the very existence of the Catholic Church. The secret endures.

Four hundred years later, Declan O’Malley, the first Irish-born Superior Generalof the Society of Jesus, learns that his friend, the German Cardinal Horst Rüttgers, has died in mysterious circumstances. With his nephew, Liam Dempsey, he tries to uncover the truth, bringing him into conflict with the sinister and virulently anti-Muslim Cardinal Bosani – Camerlengo, or High Chamberlain, of the Holy Roman Church – in charge of the upcoming Conclave to elect a new Pope.

As the two prelates grapple, Dempsey finds a bizarre link between Bosani and Caravaggio’s masterpiece, ‘The Taking of Christ’, lost for 200 years until it emerged in 1999 in the unlikely setting of the Jesuit house in Dublin. The painting turns out to be more than a sublime depiction of Christ’s seizure in the Garden of Gethsemane; it is also the key to a centuries-old conspiracy of evil.

Can O’Malley and Dempsey, aided by the cool and resourceful Maya Studer, daughter of the Commandant of the Swiss Guard, prevent Bosani from re-igniting a calamitous war between Europe and the Muslim World?


WALTER ELLIS is a journalist who worked as a feature writer and foreign correspondent for The Irish Times,Financial Times, Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times. He is the author of two non-fiction books, The Oxbridge Conspiracy, about elitism in British higher education, and The Beginning of the End, a memoir of growing up in Belfast as best friend to the man who would become the INLA’s most ruthless assassin. Both books were widely reviewed and serialized. The author now lives in New York.
The Caravaggio Conspiracy is a timely story, well told, as the clash of civilisations looms again.’  THE INDEPENDENT
Also available as an ebook

5 reviews for The Caravaggio Conspiracy

  1. Lilliput Press

    “I’ve just started reading this book and wish I hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with it, in fact I love it, and there’s the problem. You see I’m thinking this would have made a perfect ‘reading in the Christmas holidays’ book, when you can curl up in the chair uninterrupted and read for several hours at a stretch. But I’ve started it now- and can’t put it down!
    Set in the early 1600s, when Caravaggio was painting and in the near future on the death of a Pope, the characters are skillfully drawn and you are swept into the story from the start. In Rome, the Pope has died and the primates are gathered together to elect a new one. But the Muslim faith is encroaching on Europe and there is some dissent about what exactly the role of the church is in modern day. Meanwhile, Caravaggio (real name Michelangelo Merisi) is painting a new commission and discussing the reception of his other works with his reclining naked model, a twenty-year-old courtesan. The book has all the required ingredients of a page-turner; sex, conspiracy theories, mysterious deaths, religious plots and the too-ing and fro-ing between times from the 15th century to the unspecified future. The unassuming hero is Declan O’Malley, an Irish Jesuit and his nephew Liam Dempsey who follow the clues to unravel a plot. Of course, the fact that the story draws on Caravaggio’s lost masterpiece The Betrayal of Christ, which hangs in The National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and which any regular visitor will be familiar with, helps to stoke our interest but this aside it is a great read and one that will be keeping me up late for the next couple of days.” LOUISE WARD

  2. Lilliput Press

    “In the Oxbridge Conspiracy he analysed the influence of Oxford and Cambridge on national life. Mr Ellis showed that he was an accomplished journalist who could marshal facts adroitly.

    In the Beginning of the End, his memoir of his upbringing in Belfast, he described his relationship with a Protestant who became an IRA assassin. This was Mr Ellis as a sensitive writer. I agree with a reader who reviewed this on Amazon: ” It is vivid, dramatic and challenges the reader to ask questions about the nature of friendship. But there is much more, too. The book is also about family, growing up, the quality of memory, ambition, hope and disappointment. It is set in the black and white world of the Troubles. Ellis writes beautifully. He is funny, self deprecating and intelligent.”

    Then Mr Ellis turned to crime, in Anglophobia, a murder mystery set amongst the English ex-pat community in a sleepy corner of France. Here Mr Ellis showed he could craft a traditional story. The characters were rich and hs observations on the ex pat community shrewd and amusing. This was published as a Kindle rather than by a major publisher.

    Next came London Eye. This is a fantastic black-comedy about three middle aged friends. Matthew D’Ancona, a former editor of the Spectator and a recent Booker Prize judge, wrote of this: “Walter Ellis is one of the great veterans of the last days of Fleet Street – a journalist of awesome facility and lucidity, who could famously turn out 2,000 words of perfectly-turned prose on just about any subject before (or, still better, after) a proper El Vino lunch. But, rather than wallow in nostalgia, he has produced a superb novel …..that will have readers laughing over their Kindles in public places and gripped by the taut and entertaining plot that he has devised. ‘London Eye’ is a homage to this great world city on the eve of its Olympic year but it is also a cracking read, that will have you clicking the page-turn button with relish. Not to be missed and surely the first of many such triumphs by a voice both confidently familiar and energisingly fresh.” The eminent historian, Andrew Roberts, wrote: “This book moves from the genuinely witty to the touchingly elegiac into a perceptively-nuanced treatise on the nature of modern friendship. I was gripped from the opening chapter and hugely enjoyed it through to the end. It also serves as a biting satire on the state of modern Britain” It is a disgrace that this wonderful book was not published by a major company; instead it appeared as a bargain-priced Kindle.

    Now we have the Caravvagio Conspiracy. This is published by a small Irish publisher – which means that it has not had significant exposure or backing . Had it been published in the UK by a major publisher I have no doubt it would have done well. It is better written, more erudite and more challenging than books covering similar themes ( the Dan Brown genre). Books like this succeed or sink on the basis of how much publishers spend on promotion. Anyone who wants to hear more about the book should go to You Tuube ( […]) where Mr Ellis discusses it.

    I agree with another reader, Colin Smith, who applauds the taut writing, the elegant plotting, the weaving of religious, artistic and political history into a seamless narrative and, above all, the evocation of the smells, intrigues and casual violence of 17 th century Rome. My favourite character, in a terrific cast of villains and heroes, is Caravaggio, a filthy, hot tempered genius. Every page crackles with authenticity, which comes from diligent research. (Other authors take note.) We learn about sanitation in 17 th century Rome and about the patronage of artists there, about the growth of radical Islam in the twenty first century and the modern politics of electing a Pope. This is an instructive as well as an entertaining book.

    Mr Ellis should be an acclaimed author. I hope major publishers spot his talent.” RON YEATS

  3. Lilliput Press

    “Walter Ellis is emerging as one of the most readable novelists of the Kindle era. Those who have already enjoyed “London Eye” or are familiar with his journalism won’t be remotely surprised that this is a beautifully-written page-turner. It’s also an intricate mystery, a ripping yarn, and a historical drama with just the right balance of character and twists and turns to keep the reader gripped to the very end. A must-read.”
    Matthew d’Ancona

  4. Lilliput Press

    “Really enjoyed this book. It followed the artist as he made his way from one disaster to the next. Brilliant storytelling, couldn’t put it down. It had a brooding quality about it.” PAMELA

  5. Lilliput Press

    “This is a riveting read. It is driven along by the inexorable convergence of dual plot lines as the action switches back and forth between the sewage splattered streets of early1600’s Rome and a slightly future 21st century Vatican where a papal election looms. Sanitation may have improved but in some quarters one problem remains the same: how best to assure they get the right pope to deal with an Islamic surge? Four hundred years apart some people come up with the same answers: conspiracy, treachery and murder.

    But for Liam Dempsey, an Irish soldier badly wounded in Iraq who has been asked to investigate the suspicious death of a liberal cardinal, the past has left a vital clue behind. It is in a painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio that went missing for 200 years until it was discovered in a Jesuit establishment in Dublin. If it is deciphered in time, the makings of an all out war between the West and Islam might be avoided.

    Walter Ellis weaves a tremendous tale out of all this. He is particularly good with the Caravaggio chapters, providing a convincing backcloth for early 17th century Rome and its artists. By his mid-thirties Caravaggio, who had shocked the more conservative clergy by using prostitutes and other live models to illustrate his biblical scenes, was well paid but highly controversial. And not only for his work. In both senses of the word the painter was also an infamous swordsman: both a drunken philanderer and an inveterate brawler with a tendency to settle his scores with cold steel. When it comes to the most important fight scene Ellis writes like a veritable Alexandre Dumas let lose at the OK Corral. The novel glows with these vignettes but never loses its narrative thrust as, step by step and give or take the odd red herring, the conspiracy is revealed the way hidden detail is restored to a lost masterpiece after years of disguising varnish has been stripped away. It is tremendously entertaining – a sheer pleasure.” CFR SMITH

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Weight 0.5 kg
Dimensions 136 × 215 mm
Publication Date

May 2012


Paperback, 280pp