A well-paced thriller from longtime Vatican watcher Carroll (Crusade, 2004, etc.) set in post–World War II Rome, with the Catholic Church athwart a tangle of scandalous politics and incriminating deeds.
“Sanctuary, Sister, is for the guilty. We may not like it, but there it is.” So remarks an American monsignor, Kevin Deane, who's working to provide relief to Italian Jews, even as others in the Vatican are seeking to extend that sanctuary to their Nazi persecutors. Into this conflict comes refugee coordinator David Warburg, a confidant of Henry Morgenthau, who has warned him that “[o]nce Mark Clark captures it, Rome will be the nerve center and the escape hatch both.” If Morgenthau only knew how deeply tunneled that escape hatch was....Helping Warburg—or is she?—is a Red Cross worker named Marguerite d’Erasmo, who “came of age as if she were a nun” but who has hidden resources, to say nothing of secrets. Marguerite is a person of faith much shaken, for this is a time in which “the Madonna seemed indifferent to everyone but her Son,” while Warburg is a coolly efficient explorer of the surprising alleys his quest takes him down—not just the Vatican “ratline” that sweeps Nazis out of the path of the conquering Allies (Rome, as Warburg sees it, is “halfway between Vienna and Buenos Aires”), but also a complex storyline that finds highly placed elements within the Vatican opposing Jewish immigration to Palestine on the grounds that by doing so, they are helping to preserve the Holy Land, even as others are aligned with the revived cause of Zionism. Carroll blends a solid command of modern history with a sense for the varieties of evil that have inhabited it—not just the villains, but also the bureaucrats who have self-servingly helped them along and the apologists who have made the world safe for both classes of people.
Though without the white-knuckle tension of Graham Greene’s The Third Man, a yarn that’s of a piece with it—and a worthy successor.