The Vatican Secret – Action packed psychological thriller!

psychological thriller

We spoke with Peter Hogenkamp about the audiobook release of his 3rd book ‘The Vatican Secret’ which was released on the 3rd of May 2022 – The psychological thriller you need on your holiday thriller lists;

  • Fans of Joel C. Rosenberg, Tom Clancy and Steven Konkoly will be completely gripped.
  • “Riveting… I was completely engrossed… A tonne of action, plenty of twists and turns, and enough drama to keep you feverishly turning the pages.” Readers Retreat
  1. What was the inspiration behind the book?

I wanted to go to medical school after college but my pre-med advisor didn’t think I was quite ready, so I took off for Europe, spending three years there–mainly in Austria, Portugal and Italy–before coming back to the States to start med school.

Even though I wasn’t writing at the time, I was so impressed with the dramatic landscapes that I took extensive notes on them in preparation for writing a novel. I was especially taken with the Cinque Terre in Italy, and loved to sit on the cliffs above the Ligurian Sea watching the waves batter the rocky shoreline and listen to the cacophony of the gulls, the wind and the breakers.
On some days, when the wind was right, you could smell the caper blossoms and the scent of the blood oranges as they ripened in the sun. All I needed were characters and a plot, which came years later, inspired in part by the hundreds of books and movies I consumed when I had a minute to spare from my busy life of family (wife and four kids) and my medical practice.
I wanted to create a main character that was completely different from the usual mold of thriller protagonists. In place of the stereotypical main character, I brought to life Marco Venetti, the Jesuit priest from Monterosso al Mare. The trick was to find a way to get him into the role I wanted him to play that was both believable and organic, and I think I accomplished that in book one of the series (The Vatican Conspiracy.) In The Vatican Secret (book 2) I now had the character I was looking for, and I had great fun putting him through his paces to see how far he would go in his new role

2. Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Do you have different formats such as audio in mind when you write?

I listen to more books than I read, so I am always thinking about how my prose sounds. As a consequence of this, I read aloud when I am editing and I don’t move on from a chapter until I approve of the way the words echo inside my writing space, whether that be my kitchen table, the top of a mountain, or a crowded cafe. This is, even more, the case for dialogue. I take great pride in my dialogue in that it has to be real, as if you are just listening to people speaking together rather than reading their words, but also organic from the standpoint that you should be able to identify who is speaking from the content of what they say, which is one of the reasons I don’t use dialogue tags (he said, she said, etc.) I usually write my first drafts as I listen to music, such as Dave Matthews, Mark Knofler, or The Counting Crows, and edit in silence so that I can read the words aloud. When I am stuck, I usually retreat to a café or bar, because I find the noise and the activity can be very stimulating. 

3. There was a reviewer on Goodreads who describes The Vatican Secret as – “Grabs you on the first page and is powered by non-stop action and a taut, emotional narrative… A real page turner!”.
Did you always intend the books to be so fast paced, or did this happen organically? 

Almost everything I choose to read, with the very big exception of medical books and articles, is fast paced and tense. That’s what I am used to, so that’s the way I write.
That said, my focus is on the character’s relationships. Just because a book has a lot of action does not mean that the focus has to be on the action. What I like about action-packed, fast-moving books is that there is plenty of opportunity for the characters to show what they are made of and how they feel about the other characters. I would argue that adversity and conflict are the best definers of character–in the real world and in the fictional one–making action-filled books excellent venues for character development. Action may drive the plot in The Vatican Secret (and keep the pacing up as well) but the heart of the book is: 1) Marco’s relationship with Elena, for whom he has risked everything; his priesthood, his faith, his life; 2) Marco’s relationship with Sarah, the beautiful American woman to whom he is fatally attracted; 3) Marco’s relationship with Pope John Paul III, who is not only his mentor but his friend, and the man he absolutely does NOT want to betray.

4. Action packed, page turners do lend themselves well to audio, what do you feel audio brings to your book that print doesn’t?

I love good dialogue, and a well-narrated audiobook is the best way to appreciate really good dialogue. Audio highlights the interplay between two characters much better than print, and can really magnify the tension between two characters. Audio is also a great way to bring out humor in the dialogue. Consider the following few lines between Mr. Foster of the CIA and Cardinal Lucci: “I’m a simple man, Eminence, with a simple mind. Whenever someone gets offed, I always start by asking myself two questions: who benefits the most from the victim’s murder, and who had the opportunity to do it?”  “And?”  “You’re right at the top of the list.”   “Let’s assume for the minute that I’m not involved. Who then?”   “I hate making assumptions, but sure, I’ll play along. . . You’re paying the bill.”   As much as I love those lines on paper, you should hear how good they sound on audio.  And here again a paragraph later: “Those sackless bastards don’t have the stomach to swat a fly, much less kill the pope, but you certainly do… ”   “I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment or a condemnation.”   “Consider it both.” 

5. What was it like listening to the book in audio form, and what did you enjoy most about the audio narration?

I have been an audiobook fan from the early days, back when we used to refer to them as books on tape. As proof of that, I still have the entire Harry Potter series on cassette tape, which, even to me, seems almost prehistoric. So, being a huge fan of the medium, listening to the audio narration for the first time was a big thrill, especially since Nick Landrum did such a brilliant job with it. I was driving back from watching my daughter’s soccer game and I got so engrossed in the performance that, despite the long drive being done, I sat in the car in the garage to listen to the end of a chapter, totally absorbed in the spell of the narrative. Even though I wrote the book, I was held captive wanting to know what happened. I credit Nick Landrum’s outstanding oration for that. It’s a great example of how listening to an audiobook can be a completely different experience from reading the book on which it is based. Listening to the performance of the narration can be similar to the experience of watching a movie, which is why I tell people that the proper way to enjoy an audiobook is to ‘watch with your ears.’ A good narration fills your mind with images in a similar way that watching the movie does, which is one of the many reasons I prefer audio to print books.

There is a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Vatican City’s deadliest enemy. And time is running out to stop an attack…
Marco Venetti, the only man the Pope trusts, is on the hunt for a traitor. He is willing to do anything to protect the church, and the man at its heart. Even if it means getting blood on his hands…

But when Marco finds him, the traitor reveals terrifying new information: the name of a Russian mafioso with a grudge against the Vatican and possession of a nuclear bomb. If Marco doesn’t work with him, the consequences will be deadly.

For more information about this title, or our full English catalogue contact Nadia on – or simply book a meeting.

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