John’s debut novel takes place in ancient Avignon, in 1348. A plague has struck the town, killing half the populace. In the Pope’s Palace – the Papacy has moved here from Rome – the pontiff, Clement, cannot give any message of hope.
Forty-four years earlier, 1304, in Limoges, boyhood friends Edmond and Pierre Roger – the latter will go on to become Pope – fight bitterly. Pierre Roger lives his life seeking revenge.
Edmond’s son, Marius, with his young wife and baby son, move to Avignon to improve their lot. But, he is tempted into an illicit liaison with the nubile Alice.
It is now 1348 again, and Pope Clement is well-respected but, privately, he is addicted to laudanum and eaten by desire for revenge on Edmond via his son.
The plague rages. Marius is appointed Deputy Justice and organises the collection and burial of corpses. He rallies the people behind him and the scourge would have triumphed without their communal courage.
With winter, the plague inexplicably subsides then disappears. Clement renounces both revenge and laudanum. In January 1349, Marius and Alice are now free to marry.
Avignon’s hero rises to become the Justice and the town, at last, opens to the world.