"Your religion preaches that vengeance belongs to God… Well, I borrowed a little from him."
So I gave my reader a break and picked up an old paperback from the shelf which I haven't opened in a while, because I've been having mediocre reads as of late.
Can't say the rhinitis and the strange, furry brown things that fell off while I turned the pages were worth the revisit but it was still pretty entertaining. Not as impressed as I was when I was a teenager where I was all "That nun had sex with a man! A nun!" because let's face it, I have read some things that are far more insane since then, but whatevs.
This is not the book from which the Daniel Day-Lewis film is adapted from (was it adapted from a book?). Set in 1984, this is about the Vatican being tired of putting up with shit from Soviet Russia whose General Secretary Yuri Andropov is hell bent on killing Pope John Paul II. After the successive failed but increasingly close attempts at the pope's life, a covert group of high ranking priests (an archbishop, a Cardinal and a Bacon priest) who calls themselves Nostra Trinita decided to hire and train a secret papal envoy to be sent to Moscow and kill the Soviet premier.
They hired Mirek Scibor, a former major in the Polish Secret Police (whose actual Polish name refuses to get typed. Thanks autocorrect.), an atheist with a burning hatred for the Russian leader. He, together with Ania Krol, a Jesuit nun posing as his wife, will be traveling through the Vatican's covert pipeline of undercover priests, safe houses and the uncanniest of allies to get to Moscow and try to beat the Kremlin from assassinating the Pope himself when he travels to the Far East.
I'm not sure how it worked in the 80's but one thing that was unusual for me is the use of real personalities (ie. John Paul II and Yuri Andropov) in the story. And not just as a passive casual mention, but as active participants, especially Andropov who was the main villain. I'm pretty sure some dialogue could be grounds for libel, but I have to admit I liked the imagination put into it, incorporating and tinkering with historical events to provide enough tension to credibly qualify this as a spy thriller with a little bit of drama and cheese that it could also be acceptably shelved as a romantic suspense novel.
This started strong, showing the machinery of the Nostra Trinitaas men pulling the strings and it was quite fun to imagine the Vatican capable of sending someone to Camp Ibn Awad in Libya to train for their cause because that place sounds a lot like Hogwars for Terrorists (like, seriously). How awesome it is to imagine our friendly neighborhood priest isn't a dedicated gardener but is actually growing poisons the Vatican could use to kill wayward Catholics? I mean, why do we read books like Grave Mercy?
I liked how this delved in to the nitty gritty of executing a covert operation without making things too complex (sometimes to a fault). How Mirek trained, the clever ways they evaded the Russians' pursuit (i.e. transporting someone inside a vatful of milk in scuba gear), the secret handshakes and passwords… there was a certain magic to it. Though not the plot twists and the contrived creation of tension that felt seemingly simplistic and borderline ridiculous.
While there was some ease and confidence in the espionage aspect, the romantic angle just came across farcical and forced. The dialogue was severely cheesy and the chemistry between the protagonists felt hurried and illogical. Suddenly, after seeing her naked body while she was crying, Mirek fell in love with Ania. For an attractive, bad-ass mofo, Mirek came across a tool and a perv who degenerated to a lovesick fool towards the end. There's this lengthy description of Mirek's sexual prowess and penile and scrotal features (it was a witness interrogation scene) that clearly illustrates the awkward effort to reach out to the romantic suspense fans.
"His virility is above average. He can have two full orgasms within twenty minutes and a third an hour later. But he is not selfish about it."
Well thank God he's a sharer.
I remember being impressed with Ania's strength when I first read this but thirty-something me now recognizes a token heroine who needs to be rescued to better illustrate all that manly manliness and have a moral conflict to cry over. And yet… that freaking Epilogue still made me go and waste a heartfelt "Awww…"
So a decade after, yes, this was still pretty entertaining but probably not for the same reasons as I had before.
And right there, the comfort in the idea that (whodathunk?!) I'm an evolving reader, also makes me stare wistfully at my Francine Pascal collection.