There are not exactly too many books that could be subscribed as a ecclesiastical thriller. The new book by Piers Paul Read called “The Death of a Pope” is certainly part of that small genre, but not limited by that.
The novel starts with a trial for a laicized priest who had been working for an international Catholic charity and had been arrested for trying to buy nerve agent. The plot builds from there in the last weeks of Pope John Paul II’s life and it follows a serious threat as you might expect from the thriller genre. The main characters follow a range mainly along a faithful Catholic and lapsed/liberal Catholic divide that includes a Cardinal, priests, a reporter, and various personnel from security agencies.
The split between faithful and less than faithful Catholics is part of the plot of the book and some of the dialogue concerns hot issues of the day such as condom use, women priests, etc. Though the book never lapses into just a vehicle for apologetics that is artificial and the issues raised are totally consistent with the plot. One thing I liked though is that the more liberal or fallen away Catholic characters were not described as unlikable stereotypes. They were treated as real people as where all the characters in the book. As you would expect from a novel published by Ignatius Press the sympathy of the book is certainly in an Orthodox Catholic direction – but again I liked it focusing on plot and characters and not making the novel a soapbox which is always a disastrous decision.
“The Death of a Pope” was a thoroughly satisfying read from the start to the end and totally satisfying how the plot resolves. While it is an enjoyable read for Catholics, the novel is quite well written and should see a large audience. The novel will be available on May 15th and has been well received by several Catholic novelists.