The Pope’s Butcher

Based on the True Story of a Serial Killer in the Medieval Vatican

Fiction - Mystery - Historical
293 Pages
Reviewed on 06/25/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Lex Allen for Readers' Favorite

The Pope's Butcher by Joseph C. Gioconda is a thrilling work of fiction inspired by true historical figures and events in the 15th century. The story is not only a hair-raising work of suspense and espionage but an astonishing account of religion and the occult at the beginning of the Inquisition in Germany. Abandoned as a child and raised by the Church, young Sebastian works tirelessly in his pursuit of priesthood. Father Heinrich Institoris, the infamous Grand Inquisitor (a historical figure), recruits the naïve Sebastian, just a few months prior to his ordination, for a mission to travel across Europe compiling information concerning witchcraft; in particular, to find a book/documents that contain all the knowledge and spells of witchcraft and demonology. Sebastian sees this mission as an opportunity of a lifetime and eagerly drops everything to carry out the mission of The Grand Inquisitor himself. What he discovers and how his revelations affect the future of the Inquisition are brought forward with some of the best interweaving of fiction and fact I've ever read.

Joseph C. Gioconda is adept at keeping readers on their toes as he weaves a fictional story through historically documented events. His characters, historical and fictional, come to life under his skillful wordsmithing to provide a sense of reality that often falls by the wayside in fictional works of this nature. In The Pope's Butcher, alternative history, action/adventure, mystery, horror, and romance fill the perfect circle of this enthralling story. His research, as evidenced by the glossary and bibliography at the end of the book, is phenomenal and seamlessly worked into the background of the escalating adventures of Sebastian. The Pope's Butcher is top-notch writing, the best book I've read this year, and I'm looking forward to Joseph C. Gioconda's second novel, Salem's Ropes.

Lucinda E Clarke

Stories about crime, malfeasance, and corruption within the hallowed halls of the Vatican hold a morbid fascination for many, particularly if it includes the Inquisition which must be the most horrendous example of man’s inhumanity to man. The title alone, The Pope’s Butcher by Joseph Gioconda, was enough to attract my attention. It is based on a true story from the late fifteenth century when Pope Innocent sat on the papal throne at a time when the fear of heresy was at its height. We meet the young Sebastian Alberti, about to begin his final year at the seminary in Rome but he is sent on a mission by Father Heinrich Institorus to research witchcraft practices in Europe. His findings will be the contents of a book that later became one of the most circulated books in the world. While Sebastian is a fictitious character, we follow him through Spain, France, England, and on to Hibernia (Ireland). He meets a white witch and falls in love, and also is witness to practices that are described in horrific detail.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Pope’s Butcher by Joseph Gioconda. The story moved quickly, and I feverishly read the book in two days. The characterization was excellent, the villain had not one redeeming feature, and you had to love Sebastian for his pure goodness and naivety, though how could he think otherwise being fresh from the seminary? There is a love story, which is pure and simple. Brigantia is a free and charming spirit and, through her wisdom, I learned a lot about the Old Religion which preceded Christianity. The early beliefs were described by the author so well, as were the contents of the book that was the final outcome of Sebastian’s reports on his fact-finding travels. I won’t give away any spoilers but even I had heard of the book that is said to have caused more deaths than any other publication ever produced. Yes, this is a historical novel set in the latter part of the fifteenth century, but it has its roots in fact as the research shows. The author states he has visited all the destinations and his descriptions of the towns in that period of history are so well-drawn you feel you are there. Well worth five stars.

Viga Boland

The Pope’s Butcher, extensively researched and superbly written by Joseph C. Gioconda ranks in my top ten of historical fiction novels. Talk about an author’s ability to bring the distant past to life! Gioconda had me walking down ancient streets teeming with people and animals, riding through forests on a beautiful horse, crossing angry seas, and sadly, witnessing atrocities against women that made my blood boil. The Pope’s Butcher was a priest, Heinrich Institoris, the Grand Inquisitor, a serial killer of epic proportions, who went out of his way to find and burn witches, even when there were none to be found.

In this story, Institoris charges an aspiring seminarian, Sebastian, with the task of hunting down hidden tomes written about witches. Pleased to be assigned such an important mission, supposedly sanctioned by the Pope himself, Sebastian travels to various countries to locate the books, but along the way, the more he learns about so-called witches, the more he realizes just who is truly evil, and it’s not the midwives and women who heal using herbs. In his desire to put the blame where it belongs, when Sebastian finally records the results of his research, he innocently sends more good women to their deaths. The reader weeps along with those who loved them, so well has the author captured the injustices committed in the name of religion in a most unenlightened age.

Reflecting on the events and characters in The Pope’s Butcher, it’s hard not to think about how far or perhaps how little we have advanced when it comes to male/female equality. It was a man’s world back in the 15th century and many will argue that it still is today, despite the progress. The other issue that is a dominant theme in this novel is the power of religious belief to divide families, society, and countries. The Pope’s Butcher is one of those novels that leaves you thinking about what was, what is, and what will be in the next hundred years. Now that’s good writing!

Heather Osborne

The Pope’s Butcher: Based on the True Story of a Serial Killer in the Medieval Vatican by Joseph C. Gioconda is a historical mystery set during the time of the Inquisition. Inquisitor Heinrich Institoris enlists the help of a young man, Sebastian, destined for the priesthood, in his quest to root out witches around Europe and beyond. Emboldened by his mission, Sebastian sets out on a year-long quest to seek out information about witchcraft, instructed to observe and record. Institoris informs him that the research he does will make the basis of a book that will allow people to more easily recognize witchcraft in their own towns and villages. Yet, on Sebastian’s travels, he begins to discover there is much more to witchcraft than meets the eye. However, as his knowledge develops, Institoris continues a reign of terror throughout Europe. Will Sebastian be able to convince the world of his findings, or will they be twisted into something much more terrible?

The Pope’s Butcher: Based on the True Story of a Serial Killer in the Medieval Vatican by Joseph C. Gioconda was an interesting read, developing what little is known about Heinrich Institoris. I have a mild fascination with the Inquisition, so I was very curious to read the novel. Personally, I didn’t find any of the descriptions at odds with what one would expect for a novel of this type, nor were they particularly graphic, at least to my perception. I liked Sebastian as a character, and his empathy toward those women who practiced their faith was unexpected, considering his theological background. There were a few details I wish had been elaborated on, and the ending was a bit too rushed for me. However, it is clear Mr. Gioconda put a great deal of research into this novel and engaged the reader by presenting just the right amount of historical context woven into the story.

Anne-Marie Reynolds

The Pope's Butcher by Joseph C. Gioconda is a historical mystery "Based on the True Story of a Serial Killer in the Medieval Vatican." Father Heinrich Institoris is the Grand Inquisitor who has made it his mission to get rid of anyone suspected of practicing witchcraft. Specifically women. Across Europe, Inquisition courts are taking place and Institoris is determined to root out all evil, to leave no woman alive as he seeks to exact revenge for Eve’s original sin. Sebastian was abandoned and brought up by the Church and all he wants is to enter the priesthood. But when he is given a scroll by a mysterious stranger, everything changes. Sebastian has come to the attention of the Inquisition and he is required to attend immediately – for what, he doesn’t know. Embarking on a journey, he meets Brigantia, a Pagan witch. It's time for the truth to come out about his past and about the church he loves. A church with secrets he never dreamed existed.

The Pope’s Butcher by Joseph C. Giaconda is a fascinating fictional tale based on a true story. And what a story! There are some graphic scenes but they are perfectly in keeping with the nature of the story. This is full of intrigue, suspense, mystery, and, to a certain extent, horror and I can only imagine the research that must have gone into it to bring us this tale. A page-turner from the start, this story will have you on the edge of your seat as the tension builds throughout. I understand this is the author’s debut novel and what a way to thrust yourself into the cut-throat world of books. The plot is twisty with great pacing and plenty of hair-raising action with well-developed characters that grow throughout the book. Fantastic story. I really want to read more from this author and hope he has a sequel in the offing.

Lyn Murdock

Historic fiction is not often packed with accuracy and twisted intrigue, but here you get both. A well researched story of one of the most bloody, murderous incidents in the history of The Church.

Enter a frenzy not unlike the stories you’ve doubtless heard of the Salem witch trials, but a change of settings, a tale of darkness and corruption.

Mysteries and life questions are on the line for Sebastian Alberti. Orphaned as a child Sebastian has long sought answers in The Church. He has studied and committed himself. A short time before he attains ordination as a priest he is approached by The Grand Inquisitor with the opportunity of a lifetime: journey and research the presence of witches who have infiltrated the community with evil.

As the fast-paced story unfolds Sebastian is faced with a dilemma: Does Hey pursue the path to which The Inquisitor has called him — which comes with reward, position, prestige- or does he press through what he increasingly believes to be the false veil which has hidden and even twisted the truth about “witches”?

Sebastian begins to suspect the nefarious intent of The Inquisitor and his fierce obsession with the wiles of womanhood. The Church’s objective is the salvation of souls from evil. Where and in whom the evil lies unfolds in this quick-paced story.

I could not put it down! Read it straight through, with a few side treks to research interesting historical points.

This should be read in conjunction with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to broaden understanding of the hysteria and malevolence present during the time.

Trizah Kelvin

Incredibly rich and detailed historically, this book is a real page-turner! From the very first chapter, I was hooked. The Inquisitor is a fascinating character and Sebastian is a compelling protagonist. The details are very nice.

For his first novel, the author did an incredible job! I look forward to more books about these same characters.

Really interesting story. I found myself wanting to learn more about Institoris as a real historical figure. It is amazing that we don’t know more about him. A real gem!
Intriguing characters. I want to get to know them better in a sequel.

Julie Martin

There is no end to the infamy that Father Institoris of the Roman Inquisition intends for medieval Europe. He sends young Sebastian Alberti on a fact- finding expedition, and while on this research trip, Sebastian learns many things, including what really happened to his parents. Dark forces are at work within the Church but luckily, there are equally powerful forces ready to fight back. The history perfectly blended with the world building and characterization to create a hypnotic tale I couldn’t put down.