In this absorbing mystery set in Seville, author Arturo Perez-Reverte depicts the all-too-human ecclesiastical hierarchy--from an elderly local priest in a small church of declining population, to the Vatican, the Pope, and the Institute of External Affairs (IEA), in charge of investigating crime and violations of priestly protocol. Fr. Lorenzo Quart, representing the IEA, is sent to Seville to investigate when a hacker leaves a message on the Pope's private e-mail claiming that two recent deaths in seventeenth century church suggest that the church "kills to defend itself."
Our Lady of the Tears, a Baroque church undergoing restoration, is sitting on some of the most valuable land in Seville, and the archbishop and a local bank, working with the Saudi government, are determined to close it and sell the land. Its irascible, elderly priest, an American nun/architect, the seventy-year-old duchess whose family has endowed the church, and her gorgeous daughter Makarena are just as determined to keep the church open. Matters become more complicated when one of the bank employees, heavily in debt, hooks up with a former prize fighter, a gypsy singer, and a slick operator, to force the church to close.
The ambition of the archbishop, the susceptibility of Fr. Quart to the wiles of Makarena, the stubbornness of the elderly priest of the church, the infighting within the Vatican, and its deal-making all show the human frailties of the clergy and add to the complexity of the developing mystery. The author uses every trick in the book to involve the reader in the action, including deaths inside the church, clergy who share their doubts and lack of faith with the reader, sexual temptations, betrayals and double-crosses, and characters who gradually show themselves to be different from initial impressions. Fr. Quart, "the sexiest priest alive," supposedly resembles "Richard Chamberlain in _The Thorn Birds_, but more manly," and as he investigates and tries to avoid taking sides, he must resist the advances of Makarena.
The novel leads to a bang-up conclusion, but it is somewhat disappointing in its melodrama. The solutions to many of the novel's mysteries are revealed in retrospect, sometimes weeks or years later, not through direct action. The stereotypical characters become individuals only in the conclusion, when their atypical behavior, for which there have been no advance hints, conveniently allows the author to solve several mysteries. Still, the author's depiction of enchanting Seville, his ability to create atmosphere, and the sheer fun of the story make this one of Perez-Reverte's most enjoyable mysteries. n Mary Whipple