Because I read Conclave by Robert Harris as an audio book I was unable to have a quick peek at the end to work out who becomes Pope and how the politics of the conclave of Catholic cardinals works out. I am positive that if I had been reading it as a paper book I would have taken a look because the tension in the book as the cardinals take one vote after another and various secrets are revealed was incredible. When the final vote is taken and we know who the Pope is, of course, it seems inevitable that this should have been the ending but I have to say that I was pretty convinced at various times throughout the story that it would be each of the candidates. This is a testament to excellent plotting and storytelling which kept me riveted to this book just to see what would happen next.
The story seems a strange one on which to base a whole book. A Pope has died and the conclave of cardinals meets in the Sistine chapel in the Vatican in Rome to choose a successor. The process is heavily dependent on tradition and the participants are supposed to sequester themselves away from the things of the world and let God show them who their next leader will be. In this author’s view of the process, however, there is certainly as much politics as spirituality in the proceedings.
The book follows one cardinal, the Dean of the College of Cardinals who is responsible for making sure that everything runs smoothly and according to the rules. He is the man who will discover the secrets of his fellow clerics and have to decide how to deal with them, what to make known and what can remain secret. There are lots of secrets right up to the end of the book and I was delighted to discover that, although I couldn’t work out until the last few chapters who the Pope would be, I did guess the final twist which is an excellent one.
This book is well written and I found it compulsive reading. I was pleased to say too that although the author didn’t resist poking a bit of fun at the church in the process he was respectful of the Catholic tradition and of faith in general. I enjoyed the ups and downs and the very real suspense each time a vote was taken and I thought that there were a lot of real life issues considered in the story. Compelling stuff.