Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: Peter’s Pence

Jon Cleary
Awards: Edgar
Rating: ★ ★ – – –

This book is sort of the Da Vinci Code of 1974. It’s a heist story set in the Vatican, so it has the same sort of caper-in-the-inner-circle-of-the-Catholic-church thing going on. There is a disillusioned, lapsed-believer lead male character and a gorgeous Romance-language-speaking (Italian, in this case) lead female character who end up running from the law through (almost) no fault of their own. And they are pursued the whole time by a creepy crazy man devoted to a fanatical cause.

As a piece of writing, it’s a bit better than the Da Vinci Code. A little bit.

The book starts with a group of IRA members plotting to steal some of the Vatican’s treasures so they can use the ransom money to bribe corrupt Ulster politicians and finally bring about peace in Northern Ireland. They get Fergus McBride, the Vatican’s press relations man and the American son of an IRA martyr, to help them get inside. But the heist goes terribly wrong and they end up kidnapping the Pope instead. They spend the rest of the book trying to figure out how to get out of the situation with the ransom but without having to kill the Pope.

In the meantime, the son of a German SS officer is running around Rome trying to assassinate the Pope because the Pope, who is also German, was imprisoned in Dachau during the war and gave evidence against his father which led to his execution.

Problem #1 is that the characters are all unbelievable and annoying.

The IRA gang is made up of an Irishman, an Australian, a tortured, self-divided Irish/English man, and the aforementioned McBride. The Pope is a kindly German and the SS officer’s son is an evil German. The Roman chief of police is a mustachioed, macho Italian. Each man is a complete ethnic stereotype and acts according to type. I found the Irishman particularly over the top.

And don’t even get me started on the women. There are four women with substantial speaking roles in the book. One is the “man-hating” (yes, that is a quote) nun who is the secretary to the Pope. Two and three are the classic jaded prostitutes with hearts of gold who work the street outside McBride’s apartment building. And the fourth is McBride’s girlfriend Luciana, a member of the Italian aristocracy. She is ravishing, passionate, prone to fits of panic and fiery anger, and, of course, has a steel backbone when it comes to protecting her man. Luciana is explicitly described as having elements of both the Madonna and the whore. I had thought that was always just an unspoken cliché.

Problem #2 is that the writing and the plot both just plain drag. There was just barely enough of a wisp of tension to keep me reading the whole way through.

1 comment:

Lord John Whorfin said...

I'm just thankful Women #2 and #3 didn't try to have a nice, long conversation with the Pontiff.

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