That should have been one tip that “The Last Pope” was no “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” but the glossy cover of the hardback claimed it was an international bestseller, so I sprang for the $7.
“The Last Pope” was probably worth the $7, but not a cent more. Its premise is that rather than dying in his sleep, as is the official word on the passing of the former Cardinal Albino Luciani, the man who was pope for only 33 days in 1978 was killed because he had made plans to remove high-ranking Vatican officials. Several cardinals from that era are implicated in ordering the pope’s death.
In the story, copies of John Paul I’s supposed plans have made their way out of the Vatican archives, and the bad guys are killing folks to get them back. A beautiful female reporter and a mysterious “Rafael” get involved, and, well, no spoilers here.
What the novel by Luis Miguel Rocha is, of course, is a vehicle to paint the Vatican Curia as corrupt and the church itself as behind-the-times on all kinds of contemporary issues. John Paul I was going to change all that, so the story goes, and the usual Catholic punching bags — birth control, homosexual relations, priestly celibacy, female priests — take their lumps.
That’s too bad, because “The Last Pope” isn’t a bad novel. But it does explain why the eight-year-old copy was sitting untouched in an antique store.