The Malachi Covenant – Can a Holy Relic Bring East and West Together?

St. Nicholas, the fourth century saint (270 to 343 AD), is known as the model for Santa Claus. As legend has it, Nicholas once rescued three young virgins from forced prostitution by dropping pouches of gold into their window so their father could pay their dowries. He’s also credited with saving three innocent sailors by calming a stormy sea. The saint was so revered by followers that battles were fought over his remains. His relics were finally taken to Bari, Italy, where they were placed in a tomb under the Basilica di San Nicola.

Dee Kelly Jr. builds upon these basic facts about St. Nicholas to construct an intriguing mystery with settings that include the saint’s tomb in Bari, the sacred halls of the Vatican, a Russian oligarch’s mansion on Lake Cuomo, and the ominous corners of deception in Moscow. At the center of this power struggle is a holy relic, St. Nicholas’ rib bone, that has been well preserved. For the faithful, relics possess the potential to heal, while for nonbelievers, relics are propaganda tools that can be used for political purposes. 

Maggie Shepherd, an American archeologist, is part of a team at Bari’s Institute of Medicine and Archeology, tasked with extracting the relic from Saint Nicholas’ crypt. The Vatican hopes to mend the schism that developed centuries ago with the Eastern Orthodox Church in Moscow by having the pope present the saint’s relic to his Russian counterpart. For Maggie, it’s a high profile assignment, one she hopes will revitalize her career after a scandal in Chicago. She also has bonded with her department’s leader, Professor Sizel Bruscoli, whose mentorship she values, as well as her friendship with his wife, Emma. Shortly after removing the precious bone from the tomb, a flash engulfs the area and Bruscoli has a spasm and collapses. At the hospital, Maggie learns that Bruscoli has a tumor that is being credited with his episode. Yet an MRI finds that the tumor has disappeared. Was it because he touched the relic? Bruscoli wakes from a como to tell Maggie he has a recurring dream with the code 13M turning up. What does it mean?

Maggie is determined to finish what she began. But there are forces lined up against her vying to steal the relic. Malachi Popov grew up in Moscow, part of a crime crew led by Nikolai Todorov. Malachi left that life behind long ago, while Todorov became a wealthy oligarch. Even though he’s now legit, Malachi knows he can’t refuse an invitation to visit Todorov at his Lake Cuomo mansion. He’s startled when he sees his former friend whose cancer battle has left him emaciated and weak. Todorov has appealed to the Vatican for a meeting with the pope, hoping for a miracle. Not even gifted with an answer, he’s out for revenge. He wants Malachi to steal the relic and bring it to him so it can be placed in his coffin when he’s buried. Obviously, such a theft would have international ramifications, affecting not only the Vatican, but the Kremlin. But Todorov its adamant. He knows that Malachi’s mother is very ill and he’s having trouble paying for her care. Todorov promises she will be well taken care of if he completes the mission. What isn’t said, however, is that if Malachi refuses, neither he nor his mother will be safe. 

Dee Kelly Jr.

Malachi does manage to steal the relic, enlisting an old friend who also gets the message that his family will be in danger if he doesn’t do what Todorov wants done. When Malachi takes the relic to visit his comatose and bedridden mother, she gets up, begins to talk, and goes into the bathroom to wash up. Malachi is stunned. She tells Malachi that she isn’t his birthmother. On Christmas Eve, she found the infant Malachi on her doorstep with a note from Dad Moroz, aka Santa Claus. After praying with Malachi, she dies and on her hand he finds the inscription, 13M. 

Malachi goes back to Lake Cuomo, hoping he can show Todorov the relic and then steal it back. But another miracle happens when Todorov is exposed to the rib bone. While not recovered, he’s energized, giving orders to his minions and telling Malachi there must be something to the healing power of the relic. The next day, as with Malachi’s mother, Todorov is very ill, but tells Malachi about his dreams which, once again, feature the strange code. After Todorov dies, Malachi discovers that the relic is gone. Eventually Malachi and Maggie, battling the clock, join forces to find the relic. Their quest will put both of them in danger and take them to Moscow where they must stay one step ahead of the dark forces trying to thwart what will be an historic event.

There’s something about religious objects that capture our fascination, from the films starring Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.), to Dan Brown’s mysteries (The Da Vinci Code, etc.). Even those who don’t believe (Nazis, for example), can’t resist coveting what they certainly don’t understand. Kelly’s mystery continues that trend and will capture a ready-made audience for these tales.

The Malachi Covenant
Dee Kelly Jr.

Top Bigstock photo: Bari, Italy – May 6, 2017: Old town, the silver bust of the Saint in the chapel of the relics in the St Nicholas Basilica.

About Charlene Giannetti (697 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.