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The KGB has infiltrated the Catholic church hierarchy in America! That's the chancy premise of this thriller by the author of the Father Dowling mysteries and other Catholic-theme novels (Connolly's Life, The Priest). But, despite more than a few implausibilities, McInerny manages to avoid the heavy, shrill, or murky dangers inherent in such a notion--thanks to charmingly offbeat characters, a variety of issue-viewpoints, uncluttered plotting. . . and a hint of tongue-in-cheek. Cardinal Fergus of N.Y., leader of the US Church's right wing, has been assassinated in Rome by leftist terrorists. So the Church's left wing--led by Cardinal Carey of San Francisco, supported by ex-monk Matt Hanratty, religion editor at the N. Y. Times--quickly comes up with a two-part agenda: to grab some power away from the Pope by ""electing"" Fergus' successor at a meeting of US clergy; and to make sure that the post doesn't go to another right-winger. Meanwhile, however, Myrtle Tillman, devoted secretary to the murdered Cardinal, has taken his secret legacy--a dossier on the KGB's Church infilitration--to rightwing think-tanker Harold Packard, who hires quirky shamus Philip Knight to determine which of three bishops (all candidates for the N.Y. post) is a KGB mole. And then the novel takes its oddest, least credible twist: at their unprecedented election-meeting, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops winds up choosing an unknown Trappist monk, saintly Abbot Peregrine, as N.Y.'s new archbishop! Was Peregrine's election a KGB plot? Is he too a mole? How many KGB-ers, indeed, are lurking beneath robes and cassocks? Well, sleuth Knight (with help from his grossly fat mad-genius-brother) figures it all out--but not before the most ruthless of the KGB agents starts trying to kill just about everybody. . . including adorably feisty Myrtle. Shrewdly balanced between timely issues (e.g., liberation theology) and light Hitchcockian suspense, nicely warmed by flickers of middle-aged romance: a bright, neat tangle of Machiavellian clerics and cynical journalists--entertaining even if you don't go along with the undercurrent of serious KGB-alarm.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum