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A priest spirited to Rome after being tortured by the Argentine military in the 1970s finds his faith tested again when the Pope dies and a woman he once loved reenters his life.

Cardinal Luca Rossini, hero of this intriguing novel of papal succession, is a Vatican gadfly who approaches his duties with the cool efficiency of a corporate executive. Rossini lost his faith during the 1970s when, as a young priest in Argentina, he was tortured by the military. After a brief affair with his rescuer and nurse, brave Isabel Ortega, Rossini was recalled to Rome, where he came under the patronage of the pope, despite his opposition to the pontiff's conservative policies. Now the pope has died and his secret diaries, which betray doubts about his stringent tenets, are being leaked to the media. Rossini is suddenly thrust into the eye of the doctrinal hurricane as an influential conclave voter, a proponent of liberalization and a surprisingly strong papal candidate. Meanwhile Rossini has come to doubt not only his faith but also his vocation. To complicate matters further, Isabel arrives in Rome with shocking revelations of her own. With half a century's writing experience under his belt, West (The Shoes of the Fisherman; The Lovers; etc.) wrestles courageously with a bloated plot, though he occasionally lapses into sentimentality during scenes between the former lovers. Overall, he succeeds in balancing contemporary Vatican intrigue and details (cellular phones ring within the folds of medieval vestments) with Rossini's myriad political, spiritual and personal crises. It is the Cardinal who holds the story together, emerging as a passionate, insightful and strong-willed character in this very temporal exploration of the church today. Literary Guild selection. (Nov.)

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