This novel was translated from Spanish, so I made allowances for that as I read. Even so, the work is uneven. Additionally, the characters emotionally veer all over the place. On the positive side, Gómez-Jurado was a journalist and his story presents an interesting picture of Vatican City and is framed well in the time right after the death of Pope John Paul II and before the election of his successor.
Whether an author can write convincingly from the viewpoint of the opposite sex has been a long-standing topic of discussion at the bookstore. In this case, (male) Gómez-Jurado’s main protagonist is (female) Paola Dicanti, a young police detective in Rome, who is assigned to find the murderer of a cardinal. She is short-tempered, lives with her mother, had a brief fling with her married superior officer, and solves her problems with violence – all qualities you’d want in your police officer, wouldn’t you? Apparently she has the Quantico-approved mind of a profiler, but that must belong to one of her other schizophrenic identities, because the reader sees the profiles she generates but is not shown the calculating mind that produces it. Some male authors believe, I think, that if their female character is a super-tough super-woman who doesn’t take bull from any man, that is somehow a compliment to women. It merely means the author is clueless about how to create a full-dimensional woman character. Interestingly, a more minor female character, a Spanish journalist, comes across in a much better way. The author understands her motivations and gives her story a more natural touch.
The story in brief: A serial killer, who is a priest and whose identity is known from the start, begins to kill cardinals who have gathered for the conclave to choose the new pope. An American priest/CIA agent – an original gimmick – comes to Dicanti’s aid because he knows the killer personally. The novel is chock-a-block with Catholic storylines, any one of which has provided the sole motivation for a single novel in the past by other authors: a hidden agenda by a shadowy Vatican organization, à la The Da Vinci Code; pederastic priests; loss of faith versus renewal of faith; and liberalization of the Vatican’s stands -- well, maybe this last hasn’t influenced too many mystery novels. The murders are fairly gruesomely described with much symbolism involved.
The characters pinball between extremes: I love the church/I hate the church, I hate you and here’s a slap to prove it/I love you and I want to kiss you even if you are a priest, I will do anything to help fellow Catholics/except you. This became wearisome after a while.
So, why didn’t I give up, close the book and walk off into the sunset? I thought about it many times, but the plot was unique and so I kept going. I actually found the resolution of the main story line quite good, implausible but good. The subsidiary storylines – eh.
As I slogged through the book, it was a puzzle to me why it had been so popular and received so much hype. After I finished, I thought I could see that it might be very popular in cultures with a strong historical base in the Catholic Church; there would be an emotional rather than just an intellectual connection to the issues. Or maybe readers don’t need “real” characters, just a galloping, corpse-filled storyline and a twist-filled ending.