by Robert Harris

A fantastic book; I don’t know when I was last so gripped by a book, and so keen to keep on reading.

True, I read it (or started to read it) on holiday, having picked up my copy in a charity shop in Sherborne, Dorset.  The setting doesn’t sound too promising: a conclave to elect the next pope.  But as the characters of various of the cardinals become exposed to the reader through the eyes of the Dean, Cardinal Lomeli, the reader gets swept along with a story which has several twists and turns.  The final twist is astonishing and sublimely satisfying.

It would be hard to say more about this book without spoilers.  Suffice to say that you warm to Lomeli from the start, but also begin to understand that although most (all?) of the papal candidates have flaws, they are ultimately human beings.

The world outside the Vatican does not obtrude through much of the story – but when it does, it is in the most dramatic way.

Harris has, as always, thoroughly researched the background to his story. He describes in some detail the process of the ballots, and even the clothing of the cardinals and the care and reverence with which they don each garment. Too much detail?  Probably not; to understand the thinking of these men it is perhaps necessary to get to grips with the minutiae of their lives.  Prayer takes a central place in this story.  Lamely is finding it difficult and this causes him some distress.  Others are observed praying at various times and in various ways.  You get the feeling that whatever their flaws, these are all pious men.

I can recommend this book unhesitatingly.


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