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A debut thriller set in an Italian monastery—many generations removed from the abbey of The Name of the Rose, but completely faithful to its spirit. Had Martin Luther ever turned his hand to potboilers, he might have bequeathed us with something like this: a decadent abbey, inhabited by perverted maniacs, falls under the rule of a faithless prior whose cynicism is outstripped only by that of his venal underlings who, with Napoleonic zeal, busy themselves (between orgies) with looting and embezzling the abbey’s treasury. Long forgotten amid the plundered splendors of the abbey is a magnificent portrait of St. Agatha, signed —Nicolas Poussin, 1629.— The monks of San Redempto probably know more about Poussin than they do about St. Agatha, but neither name is likely to excite much interest among them—until the portrait suddenly vanishes. It begins to look as if a crime has disturbed the abbey’s peace. Whom shall we look to, for either guidance or arrest? Father Prior, a sadomasochist and fascist, whose subterranean torture chamber becomes the scene of an even worse crime than the portrait’s theft? The coprophilic Father Otger? Antonio, the porter, or his brother Manolo, the cook (both of whom have turned a tidy profit over the years through their diligent manipulation of the abbey’s accounts)? What about the seemingly innocent, apparently simple Father Brocard, assigned to the investigation by the prior as a means of ensuring that case will never be solved? Or the art historian Hoop Rhutten, whose present connections within the art world disguise his former life as a monk of San Redempto? Under Luther’s stern gaze, the painting’s disappearance would have seemed trivial, compared with the barbarities practiced daily at San Redempto. A caricature of religion and religious life, too heavy-handed to be funny, too obvious to be diverting.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20019-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998