Ever since I've read about the papal conclave for the first time in Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, I've been fascinated with the Catholic Church's process of electing a new Pope - a tradition observed for hundreds of years. I also had the opportunity to visit Vatican City which gave me a greater appreciation of the power of the Church, which is evident from the awe-inspiring and jaw-droppingly beautiful sovereign state in the city of Rome.
Robert Harris is more well-known for his other novels, such as Fatherland and Pompeii, but Conclave is the first book I've read from this author because the subject matter fascinated me a bit more than the others at this point.
A modern 'political' thriller set solely within the confines of the Vatican City, and substantially in the Sistine Chapel where the voting takes place, Conclave is an engrossing read. Granted, it did take a while for my head to grasp the church hierarchies and a staggering number of names of the cardinals and archbishops of various dioceses and religious factions. The author also drops a lot of actual historical references of past Popes and elections, injecting a sense of authenticity to the storytelling. The Acknowledgements at the end evidence the level of research that went into the writing of this novel.
I was curious as to how a story as simple as the election of a Pope can be drawn out into a novel onto itself, but the author has succeeded in doing so most captivatingly. Written in a third person limited perspective of a single character, Cardinal Lomeli, who is the dean appointed to oversee the papal conclave, the narrative is subtly compelling in the way it strings the reader along to keep turning the pages to discover what happens next.
Given the simplicity of the plot, there is not much else I can mention in this review without giving too much away. I will say this, however - even though the conclusion is somewhat predictable, there is still an element of suspense and surprise right till the very end. And it is a fantastic one!