A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller (Vol. 1 - The Pius Trilogy)

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Available at Amazon.com
Category: Self-published
Date Published: March 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 284
Print Price: $14.95
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Larger-than-life characters converge on Rome from around the globe in Declan Finn’s debut novel A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller.  The (fictional) current pope, Pius XIII, has collected enemies like some people collect stamps or parking tickets, so Vatican security has invited a few advisors to help prepare for his immanent visit to Egypt.  Meanwhile, various murder investigators follow the evidence to Rome, where they hope to solve seemingly unrelated cases.

Soon the law enforcement and security officers cross paths, exchange notes, learn too much – and find themselves targeted for assassination.  Whoever is behind the attacks doesn’t want (the real) Pope Pius XII canonized.  Explosive action scenes punctuate spiraling Vatican intrigue that narrows around what must be a traitorous informant within the loose ranks of our world-class team.

And the bad guys aren’t holding any punches.  Heavily armed and, in some cases, trained from early youth, they threaten to blow up civilians and landmarks all over Rome and in the Vatican.  Keeping one’s sense of humor and a Plan B on the ready is the only way the good guys might come out alive.

“Ryan was about to run into a horde of civilians running for their lives, then tacked to the right, taking two steps, sideways, up the wall, looking like something out of a Fred Astaire dance routine, going around and above the crowd.

“’Look, Ma, it’s Neo [the main character in The Matrix movies],’ a little child in his mother’s arms cried out.”

Comic book fans will feel right at home in Finn’s story, and although there is very little science fiction involved (except for a few weapons which, given today’s technology, are probably close to being manufactured anyway), the story conveys the sensationalism of a science fiction tale.

“The gunman kicked into the air and flipped onto his feet, firing a right cross too fast for most human beings to even see,” Finn writes. “The priest sidestepped and kneed him in the stomach before pounding him with a left pile driver, which spun him around.  [Father] Frank grabbed him by the collar and belt and slammed him into the wall.  The gunman spun out of his grip, and backhanded [Father] Frank across the face before going for his knife.

“The knife came out, and up, and so did Fr. [Frank] Williams’ rosary.  The loop of the beads came up and around the knife blade like a whip.  A flick of the wrist sent both the knife and the rosary flying across the hallway.”

Each superhero is incredible enough to be suspicious.  Even Pope Pius XIII is a burly and bombastic character hardened by the violence of his home country, Sudan.  “The Pope almost growled as his large hand clamped down on the cardinal’s shoulder,” Finn writes.  He’s not a likely pope, but then the character Father Frank (above) is perhaps an even less likely priest.

The list of other team members (who are all capable of raising the reader’s suspicions – each could be the traitor) include an Egyptian police officer who once stoned his Catholic wife to death publicly; agents from Mossad, the Secret Service, Interpol, and the German BND (foreign intelligence office); the head of Vatican security; and a retired Hollywood stuntman hired by the Vatican to teach self-defense to priests and nuns.  (“Does anyone else feel like we’ve assembled the freaking Justice League?” asks one of the heroes.)  The reader might find it useful to keep an index of the characters, actually, because there are a lot of them.

In order to sort out who is trying to kill them and what the bad guys are attempting to hide, the agents and officers research Pius XII for themselves in Vatican Archives.  Well-informed as an author on the subject, Finn describes his novel as “a graduate paper gone completely out of control” and includes a bibliography at the end.

Sometimes the author’s agenda temporarily takes precedence over the plausibility of his characters and dialogue.  Truly, Finn cares about the characters deeply enough that he keeps a blog full of back stories through hyperlinks included in his novel.  However, the author’s presence can be more palpable than that of the characters for a few lines or even pages at a time.

One of the more obvious instances occurs in his heavy-handed management of faithlessness in the Church when the Moslem Egyptian policeman says,  “…I did not know that every historian who specialized in Catholic history was a reject from the seminary, an ex-priest who married an ex-nun, or ‘Catholics’ who, mysteriously, support none of the teachings of the Catholic Church” (18).  That’s a lot of experience for a non-Catholic Egyptian (briefly married to a Catholic he executed) to accumulate.

As a matter of taste, I love thrillers, yet I have a standing complaint against most thrillers which applies to the present work.  It’s fine that several characters struggle with (or just give in entirely to) lust, but constantly narrating their stares, attractions, and activities should have some bearing on the story.  Too often in this and other thrillers, it does not.

Finn refrains from graphic details, thankfully, but some of his mere ideas struck me tasteless.  Even a married couple offended me by making love in the pope’s bedroom, which had been loaned to them one night for good security reasons.  If that had been important to the plot, I would complain less, but it wasn’t.  For me, this detracted from the story.

Declan Finn has many strengths as a writer, and it can be hoped that this novel will help sort out fact from fiction about Pope Pius XII.  However, putting the truth in story form can only make the truth more persuasive than a history book if characters are given room to speak their own minds.  The plot is well-crafted, and I recommend it to those whose tastes match the excerpts above.  Expect further installments, as Finn is calling this the first of the Pius Trilogy.

ISBN-13: 978-1482553895
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches

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Juliana Weber works in religious education for a parish in the Archdiocese of Washington. She holds degrees in theology and psychology, but she’s also an avid musician and aspiring writer. For her book reviews on pastoral topics, visit http://humanumreview.com/contributors/juliana-weber.

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