Historical fiction, set in Rome in 1945 during the fraught post-war period. With many characters based on real figures, including Pope Pius XII, this book has elements of a thriller.
At the center of Davis’ (A Peep Into the 20th Century, 1971, etc.) novel is Brendan Doherty, hard-drinking Irish prelate and canon lawyer from Philadelphia. Long a resident of Rome, long in the employ of the Vatican, he has two tasks. Implacably opposed to capital punishment, he attempts to save the confessed killer Pietro Koch from the death penalty. Suspicious and skeptical, he interrogates the saintly murderer Alessandro Serenelli, saved by a vision of his victim Maria “Marietta” Goretti. The investigation is a formality, as Goretti is to be canonized (she was, in 1950). Doherty is knotted with contradiction; alcohol and lies are the lubricants necessary to loosen his grasp of the facts and their hold on him. We meet Tommy Costa, trusty assistant to a U.S. Army general. Tommy and his general are good-hearted looters, injecting needed cash and other forms of currency into the strapped economy and strapless black market. Doherty meets Tommy in the company of impoverished royals. Rich in art and prestige but cash poor, they are not flattered; as the book proceeds, the title looks ironic. Deeply committed to conventions of novelistic verisimilitude, the book reads as a study of sin, the blackest guilt of Koch, the conflicted Doherty, the spotless soul of the saint Maria.
A strong example of an uncommon type of historical fiction, appealing to readers who like to see guilt punished or forgiven.