Those who remember Martin from Hostage to the Devil (1976) as a baroque stylist of occasionally Promethean talent will miss the writerly side of him in this grayly written but otherwise compelling behemoth about Vatican finances. In the spring of 1945, with Rome still reeling from the war, Richard Lansing, at 26 the youngest ranking monsignor of the Chicago archdiocese, arrives at the Vatican to be ""cured"" in Vatican politics. Pope Eugenio Profami dispatches Maestro Guido de la Valle, the Vatican's secret banker, to save Mussolini and grant the dictator and his mistress sanctuary in the Vatican. While Mussolini chooses death over sanctuary, he does give Guido the secret numbers for recovering the Fascist Party's considerable gold stores so that the Vatican may have this wealth for itself. Soon Guido is picking up another $400 million from Nazi leaders who have secret accounts in Switzerland and want safe conduct to South America from the Pope, which Profami grants. During five different papacies, young Lansing finds himself ever more involved with Guido and discovering the background to Guido's hereditary title as Keeper of the Bargain (he's the third in his family to hold it). Back in the 1870's, when the Holy See was temporally flat on its back, it made a bargain with an assembly of the world's financial supermen: that the Church and the billionaires would ""engage in mutually profitable business ventures, and still remain enemies,"" while the Holy See granted the businessmen ""all the facilities, easements, favors, privileges, and equality"" they might need: in short, the Church signs a pact with Mammon. With Lansing, we follow the gripping underground rivers of money flowing worldwide from the Holy See's secret caverns of credit to investments in Lichtenstein, Geneva and other centers of wealth. Meanwhile, each pope since the Bargain was signed is chosen by Guido's family, including the popes Lansing is enmeshed with. By the time Lansing himself is chosen by Guido to be the next pope, the Vatican is worth in excess of $200 billion. But Lansing sees the Bargain as equal to the evil empire of Marxism itself (Pope Angelica has even struck a Moscow-Vatican bargain) and vows to liquidate all such bargains. In plot, Martin has composed a Balzackian winner here, once it gets underway, in which money scintillates like points in the Devil's eyes; and he has his presold audience of people who will believe any cock-and-bull story about devil's bargains.