"The Painted Messiah," Craig Smith

Pros: Fascinating premise and story; wonderful characters; strong adventure
Cons: Some confusion; one or two stereotyped characters
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review copy courtesy of Myrmidon Books.


Legend has it that Pilate had a portrait of Christ made while Christ yet lived—the one true image, that grants immortality to the one who possesses it. Julian Corbeau, the sadistic head of the modern Knights Templar, possesses the portrait—until Ethan and Kate, thrill-seekers and art thieves extraordinaire, set their sights on his property. They’ve never shot anyone before on one of their heists, but they aren’t prepared for how well-guarded this particular painting will be, nor for the lengths Corbeau will go to in order to get it back.

Thomas is a retired CIA agent hired by a televangelist to help him purchase and transport a particularly valuable piece of religious artwork from Europe to the United States. It should be a quick job, but Thomas’s old and mysterious friend, the Contessa de Medici, seems to think Thomas might be in over his head.

Can Ethan and Kate carry out their heist and sale without getting killed? Can Thomas get the painting back to the US? Is the tale of the painting granting immortality true?


The modern-day tale of an art heist gone wrong and a botched courier mission unfurls alongside an ancient tale of Roman politics and intrigue, religious change, and revelation. We see the past through the unique viewpoint of Pilate’s wife as she comes into her own as an intelligent force to be reckoned with, and we experience the heart-pounding adventure of the present through the eyes of Ethan, Kate, and Thomas, all slightly bent—yet well-intentioned and highly-skilled—people.

The chases, break-ins, and firefights are appropriately pulse-pounding, while the ancient Roman scenes are fascinating for their peek into a particularly influential moment in history. While I have little background in history and can’t judge the appropriateness of those scenes in that context, I loved the feel of them, and enjoyed the author’s afterword regarding his historical choices.

The main characters are skillfully rendered, entertaining, and interesting viewpoints from which to enjoy the story. Several of the side characters, however, were a bit on the over-the-top, one-dimensional side, particularly the wild-eyed, always-yelling Starr (a religious nut connected to the evangelist).

The climactic firefight also felt a bit over-the-top, and there were a couple of bits that felt unnecessarily confusing (I know that’s a bit vague, but I don’t want to spoil anything). I love stories that don’t tie up every loose end or explain every last thing, but there were a couple of, well, I suppose red herrings, that seemed to unnecessarily confuse things toward the end.

Ultimately, I’d say this was a beautifully-rendered tale, with a fascinating premise and some wonderful characters, that simply could have used a bit more polish in a couple of places. It’s more than worth the ride, though, and definitely had me turning pages to find out what happened next!

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2 comments on “"The Painted Messiah," Craig Smith
  1. Eva says:

    Sounds interesting! Thrillers aren’t usually my style, but I love art. 🙂

  2. heather says:

    Eva: The book has some pretty fascinating bits of art info, particularly about icons and such, so you might enjoy it!

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