In Conclave, Robert Harris tears away the illusion of the Pope’s selection as the sacred inspiration of holy men and exposes the political machinations and corruption behind the scenes. Although he dots the scenes with familiar Latin invocations and old-fashioned prayers, the inside debates and secret maneuvering are worthy of a political party convention.
Four candidates vie for the top job in the church: Tremblay, a Canadian who knows how to spin the media; Adeyemi, a charismatic Nigerian conservative; Tedesco, an archconservative Italian from the old school of Latin Masses; and Aldo Bellini, an intellectual Italian who would continue the Church’s reform. Cardinal Lomeli, the well-meaning Dean of the College of Cardinals, manages his colleagues and the vote, as behind the scenes revelations threaten the process.
As the plot slowly builds to what seems an inevitable conclusion – the naming of an obscure third world cardinal who miraculously appears almost too late for the closed meeting – Harris turns the plot upside down. Like the reference Harris makes to the painting of Peter, the first Pope, who hangs feet up on the cross, the papacy flips head over heals. The last impenetrable glass ceiling is cracked but almost no one knows.
I read Conclave in one night – a thriller without a murder.