The latest ecclesial potboiler by West (Vanishing Point, 1996, etc.), this one centering on the troubles that await an Argentine cardinal who hopes not to be elected pope. Luca Rossini is a man between worlds. The son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, he now lives in Rome, where his Italian surname can't really conceal the fact that he is on foreign ground in more ways than one. As a young priest, Rossini spoke out against the military junta and its ""dirty war"" of the 1970s--and was nearly killed as a result. Rescued from a squad of assassins by the wife of a senior diplomat, he was smuggled out of the country to the Vatican and has never returned. Now he faces a different sort of trial: the pope he has served for the last 20 years has died, and Rossini--who was one of the pontiff's closest advisers--is looked upon as a likely successor. Where's the problem, you ask? Well, for one thing, Rossini no longer believes in God. And for good measure, he is still in love with Isabel Ortega, his rescuer, with whom he had a brief affair before leaving Argentina. Now Isabel's husband has been appointed Argentina's ambassador to the Vatican, and he and Isabel are moving to Rome. How can Luca find peace? A rich panoply of colorful types--including a crafty servant, an Opus del prelate, several journalists of middling scruple, and (naturally) the entire College of Cardinals--combines to prove to Luca what he had always feared might not be true: namely, that God writes straight with crooked lines--even if his eraser leaves a smudge or two. Brain candy, to be sure, but who's counting calories? Vaticanologists will be having too much fun figuring out who's who in this aptly timed roman-Ë†-clef.