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"I wrote a piece for the Independent about the Jesuits at the University of Central America, and more broadly the Catholics who supported liberation theology. I was once a Catholic radical but El Salvador was a long, drawn-out disaster. I began to realise, as Pope Benedict XVI puts it in his encyclical Spe Salvi: 'Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation'."
-INTERVIEW: Left-wing Catholicism twists Gospel, says novelist (Ed West, 24 April 2009, Catholic Herald)

Piers Paul Read's new thriller proceeds from the hard-won insight that the politics of Left-wing Catholics enabled them to countenance and participate in terrible evils dressed up in delusions of the greater good. The complex character at the center of the novel is Jose Uriarte, a former Jesuit priest in Central America, who is on trial for terrorism as the story begins. He and two co-conspirators--one a fellow Basque, one from the IRA--had tried to obtain Sarin gas. Uriarte claims that he planned to use the nerve gas only to kill the livestock of Arab militiamen in Darfur, in a Rube Goldberg scheme to get them to stop raiding villages.

When he is acquitted, a beautiful young British journalist, Kate Ramsay, who had been covering the trial, follows him to Africa to write about his work fighting AIDs with a Catholic relief group, Misericordia International. Kate is soon smitten and agrees to run an important errand for Uriarte. British intelligence, in the form of David Kotovski, is keeping an eye on both of them and has a pretty good idea of what that errand entails, even if Kate doesn't.

The action converges on Rome, where John Paul II has just died and the conclave of Cardinals is meeting to appoint his successor. Uriarte is, of course, passionately opposed to the possibility (likelihood) that the next Pope will be just as conservative as the last:
The whole People of God--a billion Catholics--is yearning for a Church that will prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa. They long to throw off the absurd and intolerable burden of sexual guilt--to welcome homosexuals and divorced Catholics into full communion, to allow women to become priests; above all to abandon those meaningless dogmas like Heaven and Hell or the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist--que absurdo!
and, as one would expect of someone opposed to all dogma and all morality, he's willing to go to extremes to get his way.

While the book does not lack for action and excitement, it is also very much a novel of ideas. Uriarte's concern for the plight of the poor and diseased of the Third World is genuine. His belief that changes in the Church--okay, the destruction of the Church--would save millions of lives is treated seriously and Mr. Read never juxtaposes him with an equally compelling character on the other side of the equation. Instead, at the moral core of the story is Kate's uncle, Father Luke Scott:
He is described as 'pre-Conciliar', which means a throw-back to the days before the Second Vatican Council...[He] watches too much television--particularly films noir or Westerns where there are clear heroes and villains and good always triumphs over evil.
Father Luke has grown cynical and has his own doubts about the Church, but he retains his faith, and most of all the belief in good and evil that he finds played out in those quintessentially American art forms. He represents the traditionalist contrast to the sort of utilitarian amorality that Uriarte has adopted.

The book succeeds as both an intellectual thriller and as action-adventure. It would even make a good beach read, though not long enough to last you more than a day or two. Publishers who backed away from it for fear it was "too Catholic" have only done themselves a disservice. Happily, Ignatius Press picked up the slack and brought us one of the best reads of the year.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Piers Read Links:

    -CONTEMPORARY WRITERS: piers Paul Read (British Council)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Piers Paul Read (IMDB)
    -FACEBOOK: Piers Paul Read
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Piers Paul Read (NY Times)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Piers Paul Read
    -BOOK SITE: The Death of a Pope by Piers Paul Read (Ignatius Press)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Death of a Pope
    -GOOGLE BOOKS: Piers Paul Read
    -ESSAY: United States: The Path to Rome via San Francisco (PIERS PAUL READ, July/August 2009, Standpoint)
    -ESSAY: How Bloody was Mary? (PIERS PAUL READ, June 2009, Standpoint)
    -ESSAY: Based on a false premise: The Muslims’ letter to the Pope is not all it seems (Piers Paul Read, 17th October 2007, The Spectator)
    -ESSAY: The Pope’s anti-liberal revolution (Piers Paul Read, 21st March 2007, the Spectator)
    -ESSAY: The Pope was not attacking Islam: Piers Paul Read says that the controversial nature of the Pope’s address has been missed in the furore over Muslim sensitivities: he was daring to equate Europe and Christendom (Piers Paul Read, 21st September 2006, The Spectator)
    -ESSAY: Alive and well: The 1972 Andes plane crash has inspired a book, film and now a reality television show. Piers Paul Read, who first told the story, recalls the heroism of the 16 people who survived the disaster - on a diet of human flesh (Piers Paul Read, 19 Feb 2006, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: Alive and well after all these years: Bringing the story of the 'miracle of the Andes' to the screen was an adventure in itself. Piers Paul Read reports on the making of Alive (Piers Paul Read, 18 April 1993, Independent)
    -ESSAY: The man who should be Pope: Piers Paul Read looks over the candidates to replace John Paul II, and says that Cardinal Ratzinger has got what it takes (Piers Paul Read, March 5, 2005, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: A fiction based on falsehood (Piers Paul Read, 18th December 2004, The Spectator)
    -DIARY: Piers Paul Read's Week (Piers Paul Read, Feb. 18, 2002, Slate)
    -ESSAY: The Crusades Were Self-defence: The Church, by apologising for past misdeeds, misunderstands the militant nature of Islam (Piers Paul Read, 1/08/00, The Spectator)
    -ESSAY: Hooray for the Crusades! (Piers Paul Read, Spring 2002, Women's Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: A thorn in the side of the Papacy (Piers Paul Read, 28th April 2001, The Spectator)
    -ESSAY: The Danger to Paul: Piers Paul Read speculates that Paul Johnson might be a heretic who risks excommunication (Piers Paul Read, Oct 17, 1998, The Spectator)
    -ESSAY: Hume's Cardinal error: Piers Paul Read hunts for the man to arrest the decline of the Catholic Church (Piers Paul Read, 9/07/99, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Father Joe by Tony Hendra (Piers Paul Read, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Our Times. The Age of Elizabeth II by A.N. wilson (Piers Paul Read, Standpoint)
    -REVIEW: of Camus at Combat: Writing 1944-1947, edited by Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi (piers Paul Read, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of The Last Crusaders: The Hundred Year Battle for the Centre of the World by Barnaby Rogerson (Piers Paul Read, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Opus Dei by John Allen (Piers Paul Read, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Story of a Ship-wrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Piers Paul Read, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Disputed Truth: Memoirs Volume II by Hans Küng: The face of Catholic dissidence strikes back: The controversial theologian's second volume of memoirs is enlightening about his struggles with the Vatican but tends towards self-indulgence (Piers Paul Read, Catholic Herald)
    -REVIEW: of God Is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith Is Changing the World by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge and Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate by Terry Eagleton (Piers Paul Read, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Maurice Baring: Letters, selected and edited by Jocelyn Hillgarth and Julian Jeffs (Piers Paul Read, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of The Society of Others by William Nicholson (Piers Paul Read, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of In Search of a Beginning: My Life with Graham Greene by Yvonne Cloetta (Piers Paul Read, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Snowleg by Nicholas Shakespeare (Piers Paul Read, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of THE GATEKEEPER by Terry Eagleton (Piers Paul Read, The Spectator)
    -INTERVIEW: ‘When I was young I was nasty and cynical’: Piers Paul Read talks to Tom Teodorczuk about his new thriller (19 June 2009, Catholic Herald)
    -INTERVIEW: Piers Paul Read on his thriller, The Death Of A Pope (Hugh Hewitt, , June 30, 2009)
    -INTERVIEW: with Piers Paul Read (EWTN: The World Over)
    -INTERVIEW: Left-wing Catholicism twists Gospel, says novelist (Ed West, 24 April 2009, Catholic Herald)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Piers Paul Read on Death of a Pope (John J. Miller, NRO: Between the Covers)
    -PROFILE: Keeping faith: Piers Paul Read looks inside the Church (JEFF INGLIS, June 3, 2009, Portland Phoenix)
    -PROFILE: Novelist’s Catholic thriller explores Church division in face of ‘secular spirit’ (Catholic News Agency, 5/20/09)
    -INTERVIEW: with Piers Paul Read (Frank Wilson, 5/24/09, Philadelphia Inquirer: Books Inq)
    -PROFILE: Author’s interest in faith alive and well (Dan England, 5/14/09, Greeley
    -PODCAST: CS#102: Piers Paul Read The Death of a Pope (Catholic Spotlight, May.25, 2009)
    -PROFILE: Sorry Alec, I couldn't let you off the hook: He charmed the 'nasty' Alec Guinness, and then dissected him in a biography that outraged critics. How could the gentleman author Piers Paul Read do such a thing? David Thomas meets him (David Thomas, 07 Oct 2003, Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: Piers Paul Read on the future of the Church (Stuart Rowland, November 1999, AD2000)
    -INTERVIEW: a conversation with ... Piers Paul Read, biographer of Sir Alec Guinness (Greg Watts, January 2004, Catholic Weekly)
    -INTERVIEW: The Catholic Church in Britain: Piers Paul Read interviewed by 'AD2000' (Paul Gray, April 1989, AD2000)
    -ARTICLE: Read 'too Catholic' for UK market (Richard Brooks , 6/07/09, Times of London)
    -ARCHIVES: Piers Paul Read (The Spectator)
    -ARCHIVES: Piers Paul Read (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of The Death of a Pope By Piers Paul Read (Francis Phillips , Catholic Herald)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Pope (Michael Coren, National Post)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Pope (Frank Wilson, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Pope (Trevor Lewis , Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Pope (Brad Miner, The Catholic Thing)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Pope (JC Sanders, Texas Inkling)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Pope (Jeff Miller, Curt Jester)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Pope (Catholic News Agency)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Pope (American Catholic)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Pope (Mike Potemra, NRO: The Corner)
    -REVIEW: of The Upstart by Piers Paul Read (Karl Miller, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of A Married Man by Piers Paul Read (John Thompson, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Villa Golytsin by Piers Paul Read (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Free Frenchman by Piers Paul Read (Thomas Fleming, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Knights of the Cross by Piers Paul Read (Barry Unsworth, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of A Season in the West by Piers Paul Read (Jane DeLynn, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of On the Third Day by Piers Paul Read (Joel Brinkley, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of On the Third Day (L.S. Klepp, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of 'Ablaze: The Story of Chernobyl' by Piers Paul Read (MARK LAWSON, Independent)
-REVIEW: of The Patriot by Piers Paul Read (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of A PATRIOT IN BERLIN by Piers Paul Read (MAGGIE TRAUGOTT , Independent)
    -REVIEW: of A Patriot in Berlin by Piers Paul Read (Tom Adair, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Alice in Exile by Piers Paul Read (Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Alice in Exile (Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Alice in Exile (Melissa Morgan, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Alice in Exile (DJ Taylor, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Alec Guinness by Piers Paul Read (HUMPHREY CARPENTER, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Alec Guinness (William Grimes, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Alec Guinness (Keith Baxter, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Alec Guinness (Andrew Burnet, Sunday Herald)
    -REVIEW: of Alec Guinness (Edward Short, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Alec Guinness (Celia Wren, Commonweal)
    -REVIEW: of Alec Guinness (Rachel Cooke, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Alec Guinness (Helen Osborne, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Alec Guinness (Hilary Spurling, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Templars by Piers Paul Read (J.S. Hamilton, Journal of Church and State)
    -REVIEW: of The Templars (I.D.F. Callinan, Quadrant)
    -REVIEW: of The Templars (Jonathan Sumption, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Hell and Other Destinations, by Piers Paul Read (Francis Phillips, AD2000)
    -REVIEW: of Hell and Other Destinations (Francis Phillips, theotokos)
    -REVIEW: of Hell and Other Destinations (Ian Ker, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Hell and Other Destinations (Christopher Howse, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Hell and Other Destinations (Tom Bethell, New Oxford Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Misogynist by Piers Paul Read (DJ Taylor, The Spectator)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: The Catholic Novel Is Alive and Well in England (Marian Crowe, 11/06/07, First Things)