Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Death Of A Pope by Piers Paul Read

One of several new offerings this year by Catholic publisher, Ignatius Press, The Death of A Pope was a disappointment for me mainly due to the large number of implausibilities in the book.

The book opens with the trial of Fergal O'Brien, Asier Etchevarren and Juan Uriarte who are charged with conspiring to cause an explosion with the intent to take life. All three are on trial over their attempt to obtain Sarin and VX, both nerve gases that have been used in previous terrorist attacks in Japan. Uriarte is acquitted because he claims he intended to use it against the "camels" of the Arab militias in Africa as a deterrant and not with the "intent to take life".

Uriarte, a suave handsome ex-priest who works with a Catholic charity, Misercordia, helping the poorest of the poor in Africa, as a potential terrorist, is the first implausibility in this novel. Although Piers Paul Read gradually develops this character into a manipulative scheming person, the portrayal is at times, not very convincing.

It is during his trial that we are introduced to Kate Ramsey, a journalist, and David Kotovski, a secret British Security Service agent who is posing as a journalist, both of whom are sent to cover the trial. When Ramsey gets sacked by her paper, she decides to freelance and follow up on Uriarte, with whom she soons finds herself entangled romantically.

Ramsey's character is also not so convincing - she seems incredibly naive, especially when we are told how she sees through the immaturity of her previous lover, Barney, but is so obviously blind to Uriarte's flaws and when she is warned about Uriarte by her uncle, Father Luke.

In the meantime, Kotovski believes that Uriarte is in fact plotting some kind of major terrorist action and he races against time to find out what and where this action will go down. It is through this character that we begin to see the pieces of the puzzle fall together. The main backdrop of the remainder of the book now moves to Rome with the approaching death of Pope John Paul II (hence the title of the book)and onto the conclave which elects the new pope.

Uriarte gradually draws Kate into his plans and this is another implausibility. Would a young savvy journalist agree to carry a thermos containing the Nag Hammadi scroll out of Cairo for a man like Uriarte? Would she never check to see that this is what she is in fact carrying? Would she do this, for love, knowing the consequences if she were caught in Cairo? I found myself having difficulty believing that Kate Ramsey would so blindly co-operate with the manipulative Uriarte. Would the love of a charismatic, but somewhat suspect man, draw a woman into such complicity, especially after she learns details about Uriarte which should make her think twice?

In the end the disastrous plot is averted, though few of the characters really know the full details. It seems almost by chance that this happens, although the character least likely to affect the outcome does so, again, without really knowing what he's doing!

Ried's book is a short, fast-paced read that will appeal to those with a good handle on Catholic teaching and theology and who don't mind overlooking a few problematic aspects. Overall an enjoyable read.

You can preview the book below:

Book Details:

The Death of A Pope
Piers Paul Read

Ignatius Press 2009