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The Unreprinted: Vatican Bloodbath by Tommy Udo
A look at an off-the-wall satire from a short-lived, subversive imprint.
Welcome to another edition of The Unreprinted. This time, we’re taking a look at a short, sharp, satirical novel from a short-lived press that gave shock treatment to the British literary establishment. God save the Queen, the fascist regime, it’s Vatican Bloodbath by the late music journalist, Tommy Udo.
About a decade after its founding, the UK underground publisher Creation Books created the imprint Attack! Books, overseen by the music journalist Stephen Wells. The goal of Attack! was to create over-the-top books inspired by action comics, pulp novels, punk rock, and surrealism. It published five books between 1999 and 2002 before folding.
Despite its short lifespan, the imprint made an impact, especially in the British literary scene. The involvement of Wells and other well-known authors like Stewart Home likely contributed to this. Author and journalist Tommy Udo was one of the imprint’s authors with his novel Vatican Bloodbath.
The novel begins with a revisionist history of Jesus as a socialist revolutionary, the establishment of the Catholic church as a means to seize power and suppress Jesus’s true teachings, and the Church of England’s split with the Vatican as the start of a secret 500 year war. The story begins with the war between the British Royal Family and the Vatican already hurdling toward a climax. Russian gangsters, Islamic terrorists, the IRA, and the deep state of the United States find themselves caught in the middle.
The short novel is packed with references to conspiracies such as Icke’s reptilians, Nazi occultism, the JFK assassination, the death of Princess Diana, and Jesuit plots. Often it takes these to ridiculous extremes. For example, the FBI is revealed not only to be run entirely by crossdressers since J. Edgar Hoover, but that nearly every woman who played a major role in recent American history was actually a crossdressing FBI agent. Including Jackie Kennedy, being the one who delivered the killing shot to JFK in his limo.
The story is both extremely simple and mind-bendingly complicated, parodying other political thrillers. I could give a pretty complete summary of the plot in only a paragraph or so, but this would also gloss over the numerous relationships built-up between the various characters, all of the organizations, and the ridiculous battle scenes and almost non-sensical intrigue. I probably couldn’t tell you what happens in most of the middle of the story besides the gags.
Despite all this being in a 153 page novel, it still includes a “filler” chapter consisting almost entirely of the Queen of England taking a shit while reading another book published by Attack! This is the main draw of the book. It’s just really fucking funny.
The style of the prose is as minimalist as it gets, almost child-like in some parts. This is obviously intentional, emphasizing the pulp-inspired nature of the story. It results in most of the story being dialogue, which is full of swearing, slang, and dialect spelling. Your tolerance for this may vary, but I’ve read enough Irvine Welsh to not be bothered by it.
The worst part about the book is the design, specifically the typesetting. Some parts are obviously intentional, such as the quotes about conspiracies from dubious sources preceding each chapter being bigger than the chapter headers and sound effects in giant fonts going on for multiple pages. However, the paragraphs aren’t indented and, in many parts, aren’t spaced, resulting in several places where the text is pushed together in a way that’s difficult to read. There are also parts where the spacing is obviously wrong and a chapter will start halfway down the page. This is a problem I’ve seen with a few books from Creation, but here it’s probably the worst I’ve seen.
In spite of the sloppy design, I still had a lot of fun reading this. Does it deserve to come back into print? While I think it deserves it, I personally don’t see it happening. Tommy Udo passed away in 2019 and the reputations of the targets of satire in this book have recently taken such a beating, that putting this book back in print now would be a bit too on the nose. That said, it does deserve to be remembered for showing how far out literature could go while still being fun and accessible, a niche since filled things like the indie horror scene and Bizarro literature. If you can find a copy for a decent price, it’s certainly worth reading.