Morris West, author of the bestselling novel The Shoes of the Fisherman, manages in many of his books to balance a steadfast Catholic faith with a razor-keen perception of the flaws of the Church. Eminence begins with Monsignor Jorge Novak's 1995 admonishment of the Church's "complicities [in respect of] illegal repression" in Argentina and a short citation from William Pitt (1770): "Where law ends, tyranny begins." West uses these political statements as the launching point for his very personal story of Cardinal Luca Rossini. Luca is a compelling character--a haunted man who offers the world a stern visage to cover a deeply troubled soul. As a young and outspoken priest he was brutally tortured in an Argentine military prison and was then nursed to health by the beautiful Isabel, wife of an Argentine diplomat. To cover the scandal of his unacknowledged treatment, he was recalled to Rome and exiled to the Vatican. As the novel begins, Rossini is now the confidante of the reigning pope. He is admired and feared by his colleagues, for Rossini (like his creator) understands the Church, speaks frankly, and knows how to present his ancient faith to the late-20th-century media. When the pope becomes gravely ill and a successor must be chosen, Rossini takes a central role in the process. In the midst of the political intrigue that surrounds the selection of a new pope, however, Isabel arrives in Rome--along with Luca's daughter. Luca must suddenly confront old and painful memories of Argentina and the scandalous passion of his long-suspended love affair.
Eminence is a brisk thriller and simultaneously a very relevant examination of the byzantine Vatican City; but the ultimate pleasure of the book, as with the best of West's writings, derives from his complex and very human portrait of a modern man of the cloth. --Patrick O'Kelley