This morning I read that Pope Benedict XVI is retiring. The race was on to find a papal novel! Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find anything amazing.
Dan Brown's Angels and Demons is centered on Vatican politics, but it also features evil albino henchmen serving, if I remember correctly, Illuminati-like overlords. I was looking for a book which stuck a little closer to reality, so that ruled Brown out.
Andrew Greeley's White Smoke is just what I was looking for plot-wise: ambitious cardinals vying for the papacy. Unfortunately, Greeley's writing is atrocious. Here's a (mercifully) brief sample, an exchange between the journalist Dinny and his editor (who always speaks in exclamations!):
Despite myself and despite the damage that air travel does to my organism, my heart was beating faster. Maybe, like my editor had said, this would be the most exciting story I had ever covered .I don't know what bothers my organism more! The excessive exclamation marks, the lame joke, or maybe Dinny's immediate change of heart with next to no explanation?! Shoot me now!
"Even more than Rwanda?" I had demanded.
"No way," I had replied as I listlessly rose from my chair. "Nothing more than the Democratic convention. Or maybe even the Republican convention."
"Dinny!" he had shouted at me. "Cut the bullshit! You're dying to go!"
"All right, I'll go home and pack."
Marginally better is Greg Tobin's Conclave:
Born and raised in suburban New Jersey, Timothy John Mulrennan has known since childhood a deep and abiding faith in his God and his Church that leads him to a career as a priest-and propels him onto the stage of...the election of the first Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic church of the third millennium.
Along the way he encounters some of the most remarkable characters in contemporary fiction: Henry Martin Vennholme, leader of the conservative lay movement called Evangelium Christi, and Mulrennan's bitterest enemy within the church...Cardinal Leandro Biagi, a wily and urbane politician who would be at home in the time of the Medicis and Borgias...I think you get the idea. The question is, how much bad writing/plotting are you willing to wade through to get a fictional account of a papal election? In my case, not much. The only part of this book I can recommend in good conscience is the fast-paced chapter twelve, in which we witness papal election plotting, the entry of a dark horse candidate, and the election's outcome. In sum, it's a bad book (hence the asterisk in this post's title) with one chapter that stands out as the best fictional depiction of a papal election I've been able to find.
Other recommendations of novels/short stories welcome!