The Papacy, Plotting and Power Plays; Timely Thriller Weaves Fiction, History

The Florida Times Union, May 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Papacy, Plotting and Power Plays; Timely Thriller Weaves Fiction, History


Title: The Third Secret: A Novel of Suspense

Author: Steve Berry

Data: Ballantine Books, 416 pages, $24.95.

Review by JENNIFER FISH DECAMP

The Times-Union

In April, all eyes turned to Rome. Pope John Paul II, leader of the Roman Catholic Church for more than two decades, had died. After two days of secret balloting, a successor to John Paul II was named: Benedict XVI, a 78-year-old German who will most likely have a shorter reign than his predecessor.

As if ripped from the headlines of the past few months, Georgia author Steve Berry's upcoming book, The Third Secret, is about the inner workings of the Vatican. Like Benedict XVI, Berry's fictional pope, Clement XV, succeeds John Paul II. And like Benedict, Clement is elderly and the first German to command the papacy since the 11th century.

Early on, Ballantine Books seemed confident in Secret and scheduled its release for the competitive month of May, making it one of the cornerstones of the company's summer reading push. In the publishing world, this puts Berry in the big time, with Secret arriving in bookstores alongside new releases by best-selling fiction authors such as Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, James Patterson and Dean Koontz.

The Third Secret opens 34 months into Clement XV's reign as the Holy Father. Cardinal Alberto Valendrea, the scheming, conservative secretary of state, is already campaigning to succeed Clement, whom he openly disdains.

In the meantime, Thomas Kealy, a radical American priest who founded the global movement Catholics Rallying for Equality Against Theological Eccentricities, has been brought to Rome. He must stand before a tribunal of cardinals and bishops (which includes Valendrea) because of his public criticism of certain church policies, including its ban on priests marrying and bearing heirs, and the condemnation of homosexuality.

Clement has expressed an interest in this tribunal, which is unusual for a pope, and he has sent his papal secretary, Colin Michener, to attend. This proves problematic for Colin because he knows his former love, Katerina Lew, a journalist, atheist and now Kealy's lover, will be at the proceedings. Clement knows of Colin's transgression and of the bitterness that exists between the pair. Clement, a father-figure to Colin, tells him: "We are merely men, Colin. Nothing more. I'm no more infallible than you. Yet we proclaim ourselves princes of the Church. Devout clerics concerned only with pleasing God, while we simply please ourselves."

But this is not the only odd move Clement has made. He has also sent Colin to the Vatican library to research three visions of Mary that occurred in the last century and a half, including the famed vision in Fatima, Portugal. …

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