Concluding volume in a papal trilogy begun with The Shoes of the Fisherman (1963) and The Clowns of God (1981). Here, West's storytelling is in stronger form (after a fumble with The Clowns of God)--though what begins as character study hairpins half-way through into a thriller that adds a lesser suspense. His Holiness Leo XIV--the aged, iron-willed, unsmiling Pope from a peasant background--is about to be opened up for bypass surgery. His superb Jewish heart surgeon warns him that being so near death will bring on a profound psychological change, perhaps long-lasting depression, and a general weakening of mental powers for at least three months. He should avoid stress, not expect to do major works for quite some time--and should lose a lot of weight. Tove Lundberg, director of counseling, also wants the Pope to share with her any grief he feels. Leo awaits the knife and foresees his return from the dead as if he were Lazarus. On the eve of his operation, a defrocked priest who has married and fathered two children becomes a widower when his wife dies in Leo's hospital. The Pope tells his close Irish secretary, Malachy O'Rahilly, to look into the case and give aid--but the ex-priest murders his children and then commits suicide. Meanwhile, the Jewish surgeon and Malachy both are alerted that a terrorist group--The Sword of Islam--has put a $100,000 contract out on the Pope's life. Can Mossad help? And if Leo survives the knife, will he even have time for a change of character that will allow him the heart's warmth for bringing back into the fold the Catholics who have been shut out by his icy encyclicals? Well written, nicely paced, and absorbing for general asides on the papacy--its lapses, handling of money, and the crinkles in a Pope's purple. The gunfire does shrivel the novel's high aims, and Leo as Lazarus is not profoundly moving. But any book by West should draw the crowds.