Within hours of the sudden death of the ""Smiling Pope,"" Albino Luciani--after only 33 days in office--rumors began to fly about an assassination. Multiple contradictions in the Vatican press reports did nothing to quell the murmurings. Now, ten years after the fact, journalist and former Catholic seminarian John Cornwell (Earth to Earth; The Spoiled Priest, etc.), resolves the case in gripping and convincing style. Cornwell's verdict, in a phrase, is ""death by natural causes""--natural causes perhaps triggered by Vatican callousness. Asked by a Church official to investigate the case, Cornwell decided to answer ten disputed questions, including: who discovered the Pope's body? Was there a secret autopsy? What was the cause of death? To varying degrees, he settles all ten (correct responses to the three above are: a nun; no; pulmonary embolism) in the course of a mesmerizing foray into the Vatican. The chief suspect in the conspiracy theories, American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, is exonerated as ""the victim of widespread slander""--although Cornwell nails the Archbishop for financial mismanagement. More culpable--not of murder, but of cruelty--is the Vatican bureaucracy as a whole, which quickly decided that the election of the humble Luciani had been an enormous error, and did nothing to help this slightly bumbling Pontiff to adjust to the earth-crushing tensions of heading the largest (and oldest) institution on Earth. A gallery of Vatican portraits, from waspish priests to mendacious bishops to the current Pope himself, add to the appeal, making this a vertiginous glance at Vatican court politics as well as a fine piece of investigative journalism. A successful rejoinder to David Yallop's 1984 best-seller, In God's Name, which argues for murder by digitalis. As such--and for its own many pleasures--a must-read for Vatican watchers and true-crime buffs.