A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller, by Declan Finn, is equal parts intriguing and frustrating. As a self-published novel, it is one or two professional edits away from being a top-notch thriller.
A Pius Man is the first in a trilogy of books and deals with the threats against a newly elected Jesuit Pope and his attempts to canonize Pope Pius XII, who served as the head of the Catholic Church during World War II. The complex and compelling story involves representatives from nearly every branch of international enforcement agencies, from Vatican police to Mossad to Secret Service to Egyptian police, ex-Special Forces, Interpol, to free lance mercenaries, spies and a Hollywood stuntman to boot.
These forces work together and against each other in an attempt to uncover the connection and ultimate goal of a series of murders involving al-qaeda operatives, scholastics, and priests, all of whom were involved in investigating Pope Pius XII. Each team member comes in with suspicions and preconceived ideas about the others and through their deep and intertwining investigations learn the true agendas behind their reasons for being there.
Finn has obviously done a tremendous amount of research, both about the Vatican and Pope Pius XII. As the book examines, in the sixties and seventies there was a lot of new claims that Pius XII was in bed with the Nazi’s and did nothing to help the Jews from the slaughter that awaited them. These claims were mostly based on suspicious sources (some of which were forged) while proven documents contradicting these claims were mostly ignored. It is this tension between Pius XII’s real actions during one of the world’s darkest moments and these false claims that Finn uses as a catalyst for the story.
More often than not, Finn does a good job of weaving into the story corrections about inaccuracies of Catholic belief and history. Most of these morsels of information are related directly to the investigation, while others are bit clunky in the text. However, as a Catholic who has had to defend the church’s beliefs and stances from the ignorance of others, I appreciate Finn’s attempts to clear the air.
There are a few things that stand out and get in the way of this book reaching its full potential, simple things that a professional editor would have fixed quite easily. For example, there are eight main characters in this book, many with appropriately middle-eastern names, and yet Finn rarely calls them by the same name twice in a row.
There is one character, for example, whose name is Sean Ryan. Within a single chapter he can be called Sean, Ryan, Sean Ryan, Sean A. P. Ryan or Sean Aloysius Patricus Ryan. Multiply that by eight characters and put that in the middle of two vans under a hail of gunfire and rocket propelled grenades and you quickly lose track of who is doing what. The simple standard of introducing a character once and, thereafter, using a single version of their name outside of dialogue would have eliminated this confusing and completely unnecessary obstacle for enjoying the story.
Even though it was recently published, I’m not sure when the book was written, because it feels like it has been sitting around for a while. For example, when characters talk about picking up disposable cameras at the airport, it screams “ten years ago.” This, too, was a distraction.
Another very odd choice had me stumped. Although a small part of me appreciated his thinking outside of the box, I was more than confused by Finn’s choice to, at the end of multiple chapters, suggest the reader go online to a website and type in a key phrase to learn more about a character or subject.
I have never heard of an author promoting the idea of having the reader put the book down to do something else.
Finally, I think Declan Finn is the one of the best names for an author I’ve ever heard. It just screams political thriller. I don’t know if its a real name or a pen name, but either way, it rocks.
I hope Finn invests a few dollars to revisit this book, updates it and gives it fresh edit. If he does, he could have something really special here.