Review: Conclave by Robert Harris

James Walton 

Moving on from his acclaimed Cicero series, Robert Harris steps into the political modern day world of Rome for the tale of a bitter power struggle. But does it stand up to his previous work? James Walton has the answers. 

robert harris conclave

Like Harris’s acclaimed Cicero trilogy, his new novel concerns a power struggle at the heart of Rome. This time, though, the action takes place in the near future rather than classical times, because Conclave begins with the death of a Francis-like pope and then takes us behind the scenes at the election of his successor. 

Harris has clearly done his homework, and the book bristles with fascinating information about how the process works.

He’s good too (and by no means lazily cynical) on the curious combination of godliness and human politicking involved.

The picture of the Church that emerges is wholly persuasive, with the liberals and conservatives slugging it out from what they consider the best of motives. 

Add to that a well-paced series of twists and a fine central character in the shape of the conclave’s harassed organiser Cardinal Lomeli and, for most of the time, the result looks like being another high-class Harris thriller.

Until, that is, the final and biggest twist of all—which, for my money, is pitched somewhere between the entirely unconvincing and the hopelessly silly.


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