Sheldon’s (Dragula, 2004) latest thriller tells of an Air Force colonel, whose deployment to Italy sets off an act of retribution against a priest—who happens to be the new pope.
Iraqi-American Sami Yusuf is shocked to learn that Father Paul Rogan is the new pope, particularly since Rogan molested Sami when he was a young boy. When the Air Force sends him to Italy, his proximity to Rome and the Vatican ultimately leads to Sami’s plan of flying a fighter jet, armed with missiles, to enact his vengeance on Easter Sunday. The novel begins calmly enough: Sami and his boyfriend, Luke, are taken aback by the news of Rogan’s election, but the story quickly shifts to Sami’s brother, Jamal, visiting from Baghdad. Sami anxiously plans to come out to his sibling. The storyline, however, morphs into a tale of revenge, and most of the book follows Sami’s planned assault. Several intense sequences—Sami and a friend’s chauffer-handyman, Hassan, travel from Zakho, Iraq, to Baghdad, narrowly escaping an explosion at a gas station—amplify the tension. But as sympathy for main character gradually dissipates, the narrative falters. Sami’s motive for killing Rogan isn’t the molestation that he’d suffered, but rather the fact that he was violated and must restore his family honor. He attributes this sense of honor to being Muslim, but he later claims that he’s secular and his vendetta is “not religious.” Similarly, his actions result in the deaths of other people, which Sami acknowledges only in passing, referring to them as “collateral damage” when distinguishing himself from terrorist bombers who kill without discrimination. Still, it’s hard not to become absorbed in Sami and Hassan’s trek through Iraqi cities such as Tikrit and Samarra, a treacherous journey that’s besieged by the feuding Sunnis and Shiites.
An inconsistent protagonist hinders an otherwise convincing tale of a country and its people enduring civil unrest.