Ellen’s Pick of the Week: Conclave by Robert Harris


Robert Harris’s new novel Conclave is NOT about vampires as one of my colleagues guessed from the title, but instead is an unputdownable thriller set in a Vatican conclave sometime in the not-so-distant future. The Pope has died and the 117 Cardinals of the Catholic Church have gathered to elect, from amongst  themselves, a new Holy Father. The surprises begin almost at once when an unknown cardinal shows up, who, unbeknownst to the others, had been appointed in pectore by the late Pontiff. One of the many things I learned from this book about the Catholic Church and its Conclaves is that a Cardinal in pectore is one who has been appointed in secret by the Pope and whose name is not made public. This is usually done when someone serves in a country hostile to Christians, and Cardinal Benitez served in Iraq. The Papal Conclave, I learned, is the oldest election on earth and must follow strict rules, the strictest of which is maintaining secrecy about their deliberations and the Cardinals are basically locked away until they elect a new pope. The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit guides their decisions, however, Harris is more interested in the human element of the politically charged College of Cardinals. As the balloting proceeds, the front-runners representing various factions of the Church emerge—progressives vs traditionalists, European vs North America vs Third World–and then the politics get serious.robert-harrisHarris, who has written about Hitler, Cicero and other powerful men, did extensive research for this book and won praise from The Catholic Herald from the UK  who appreciated his ability to depict powerful and ambitious men striving to lead their flocks in the modern world. Yet, Harris’s novel asks, how far will a man go in order to get himself or his favorite elected as one of the most powerful men in the world? The stakes could not be higher and I could NOT put this book down until the last surprising twist was revealed. I listened to the audiobook which was excellent, but near the end, I needed to find out how things would turn out, so I grabbed a copy of the book so I could finish more quickly. I think this book will be of interest to readers who like a good thriller and to those who are curious about the inner workings of a Papal conclave. Highly recommended.

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