Not too long ago, a friend of mine read through the first fifty pages of A Pius Man. She was struck by something odd. The first priest who made an appearance was rather shifty looking. Her note was “is he supposed to look that menacing?”
It occurred to me that I should address something: there might some people who think that, because I'm Catholic, means that A Pius Man is going to have an easy answer: Pope Pius XII was a saint and an action hero who could do no wrong.
This goes double for those who believe that, just because I go do church every Sunday, I must be super Catholic. (I have a disturbing vision of me in a cape that's Lenten purple. I then desire to acid wash my brain) Believe it or not, I have had people tell me this, to my face, even though it's more or less a minimum requirement.
If you fall into any of the above categories, then, good, that means you'll be surprised for most of the book.
Yes, I'm Catholic, but that doesn't mean brainwashed zombie. We'll take practically anybody. And we do: from the Kennedy clan to the founder of National Review, to the regular hosts of Crossfire. Even at the beginning, there were wise men an shepherds—for God comes to those who read many books, and those who read no books, but not those who read just one book (stolen from Bishop Fulton Sheen). For me to make every priest, Pope, Bishop, and everyone associated with the Roman Catholic church, a saint, would pretty much require a full frontal lobotomy, or total ignorance of the history of the Catholic Church. There's a reason most of the Popes have not been canonized (made a saint, not fired out of a cannon, though I can think of some priests who would benefit from the latter).
As Fr. Andrew M. Greeley, novelist, Catholic priest, and raging political Liberal, has noted, there are some good men who became Popes who made for bad leaders, and some not so nice people who became pope, but were at least able to lead a pack of vampires to a blood bank. One Pope who ended up in Dante's Hell had been a monk; a good and saintly person who all but ran screaming from the office. Several Popes had to be warlords, if only to quell the riotous local population, if not to halt advancing armies. Popes are like the rest of the members of the Catholic faith: they get all sorts.
So, when I started A Pius Man, it was after having done my homework on Pope Pius XII. Any conclusions I drew would be what I found in the history. I would burn him in effigy if I found anything amiss, and make him look good if he did good.
As for everyone else in the clergy—I've met stupid priests, good priests, gay priests, bad preachers, and I've read about the really bad ones. While I object to making Catholic priests a collection of punching bags, I'm not going to fall off the horse on the other side and make them all perfect. Trying to imagine them as perfect cardboard cutouts would actually make some of them even more boring than they are now.
It may have been John P. Marquand's character Mr. Moto who was the first obviously misleading character. The character was Japanese during a time when Imperial Japan was running roughshod over China, and spends much of the time lurking in the background. He kills at least one person with seeming little to no provocation. In the movies, they cast him as Peter Lorre, well known for playing assorted murderers and monsters of varying sorts. He was dark and sinister looking.... and he was also the hero.
However, now that I've noted that, I should probably go into something else: who the hell is the good guy here?
A Pius Man has been described more than once as a spy thriller. International intrigue will abound, and telling the good guys from the bad guys may require a score card.
Who do you trust in A Pius Man? I know I asked the question before, but seriously, think about it.
Fr. Francis Williams, SJ: a priest who not only seems to know what lurks in the hearts of men, but spends his time lurking in the background, has combat skills, and did we mention that he had connections with two known terrorists, murdered before Chapter 1? Oh, and he's also changing orders: he thinks that Opus Dei looks good.
Sean AP Ryan, mercenary: his idea of a good time generally involves shootout in public landmarks, explosives, and automatic weapons. It's well known that he's been brought to Rome to teach priests self defense tactics—even though he has a body count in the low hundreds.
Hashim Abasi, Egyptian cop: he's in Rome to coordinate security on the Pope's visit to Cairo, but his father blew himself up while working on an explosive vest, his country is on the brink of being taken over by radical extremists... and, oh, yes, it looks like he stoned his wife in an honor killing.
Scott “Mossad” Murphy and Manana Shushurin.... okay, these two look like two spies who are in Rome on a fact finding mission. One is a Catholic from Israel, and the other a member of German Intelligence. But why does Scott slowly have his resources shut down one by one, and why is she a German with a Russian last name? And why she she carrying such a large gun?
Commander Giovanni Figlia. He is the head of Papal security. To get to the Pope, you have to go through him. Then why does he steal a murder scene from the Rome Police? The victim is researching Pius XII, and the killer (and second victim) is a terrorist who spends a lot of time around the Pope's right hand man. For Figlia, how far does he think he has to go to protect the Pope?
Secret Service Agent Wilhelmina Goldberg: she's there to audit the Pope's security. She's from out of town, she was in the car with Giovanni Figlia when a body landed on it. She only just arrived in town. So, obviously, she had to have nothing to do with any murders, plots, or conspiracies. How much more obvious could it be? But did I mention that Mossad reserves the right to call upon the support of any Jew in the world at any time?
Interpol Agent Maureen McGrail: In Dublin, a priest is murdered before he can leave for Rome. He was going to testify at the canonization proceedings of Pope Pius XII, and now he has a swastika carved into his forehead and a knife sticking out of his chest. She's going to Rome to see if someone wanted to stop him from talking. She obviously has NOTHING to do with this.... even if she does have a past with mercenary Sean Ryan, and has helped him kill over a dozen people.
How did I end up with a book design in such a way that you can't really trust anyone? Just lucky I guess.