© 2016 Robert Harris
Inside the Casa Santa Marta, the elders of Rome are again assembling to choose the next bishop of Rome, and thereby the governor of Catholics the world over. The Dean of the College of Cardinals labors in sadness prompted not only by the death of his friend and boss, but by the fact that he now has to manage the conclave of cardinals, in which over a hundred men are hidden in a secret chamber until such time as they elect St. Peter’s successor. Although it is an election covered in the shroud of holiness, it is an election still, and the cardinals who vote are men of ambition. Their desires and foibles bring endless complication — blackmail and simony do stir the pot — leading to numerous dramatic shifts during successive ballots. The finale, which unfolds in a Europe smoldering under terrorist attack, includes another twist ending which proved an Achilles heel, for me. Anyone who has followed my reading here knows I read anything Harris writes, delighting in his diverse settings (Rome, Cold War Russia, Belle Epoque France...and so on!) Everything that lead ups to it was first-rate: the descriptions of places and processes within the Vatican usually hidden away, the arguments between the cardinals over what sort of man and what sort of direction were needed — and then Harris has this Dan Brown, Angels and Demons moment in the last ten pages. Ah, well.