While Follain maintains that the Vatican's network of envoys is the envy of the CIA and MI6, he shows that church intelligence is spotty and ill-coordinated. People tell him they fear for their lives, but the most sinister figures in Follain's pantheon of villains would have trouble frightening an altar boy. — Michael Mewshaw
On May 4, 1998, Col. Alois Estermann, commander of the Swiss Guards, the Vatican force that protects the pope, was found shot dead in his apartment inside Vatican City, along with his wife. Also shot dead in the room was a young Swiss guardsman, Cedric Tornay. Three hours after the bodies were discovered, the Vatican released a statement naming Tornay as the killer, his motive a "fit of madness." Not so fast, thought Follain, author (Jackal, etc.) and Rome-based correspondent for the Sunday Times of London, who also figured that investigating the story would allow him insight into Vatican ways. This book presents his findings, written as a first-person investigation. This technique generates moderate suspense, as Follain follows up leads, interviews tangential figures in the case (the man who succeeded Estermann as head of the Swiss Guards, assorted clerics, the accused killer's mother et al.), and it allows for vivid firsthand accounts of the Vatican and its officials, as well as of London, Paris and Switzerland, where Follain's digging also took him. As Follain turns up evidence-mostly circumstantial and anecdotal-that the murders were more complicated than the Vatican opined, including apparent ties between Estermann and the conservative group Opus Dei and a possible homosexual affair between Estermann and Tornay, and as his outrage grows, his writing turns more lurid: his portrait of Monsignor Alois Jehle, chaplain to the Swiss Guards, which closes this account, drips with personal distaste. While by no means an objective account, then, the book does provide unusual access to inner Vatican circles and demonstrates that even those busy in pursuit of the divine can be human, perhaps all too human. 16 page b&white photo insert. (Jan.) Forecast: The abuse scandal rocking the Church will bring additional interest to this title. One hopes, however, that the publisher's promo abandons the tabloid-style, sensationalistic copy featured on the galley sent to PW for review. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
"Filled with explosive revelations!" screeches the publicity, so Follain, a Rome-based correspondent for London's Sunday Times, had better deliver. Follain insists that the Vatican engaged in a huge cover-up in 1998 after the commander of the Swiss Guard, his wife, and a vice corporal were found dead, evidently victims of a double murder/suicide.
A homosexual cabal. A drugged pope. Conspiratorial cardinals. Evil Swiss Germans. Murder.
Thus the ingredients of this innuendo-rich true-crime tale, set among the gilded halls of Saint Peter’s. On May 4, 1998, a Swiss Guard lance corporal named Cedric Tornay stormed into the Vatican City apartment of his commandant, Colonel Alois Estermann, shot Estermann and his wife dead, and then killed himself. In a note to his mother shortly beforehand, Tornay wrote, "I must do this service for all the guards remaining as well as to the Catholic church. I have sworn to give my life for the pope and this is what I am doing." Vatican officials quickly covered up the murder, saying little other than that Tornay had had a cyst on the brain and that traces of cannabis had been found in his bloodstream. The heavy in this cover-up--for so London Sunday Times correspondent Follain (Jackal, 1998, etc.) considers it to be--was wily Vatican press secretary Joaquin Navarro-Valls, by his lights a worthy descendant of Torquemada and Richelieu. But Novarro-Valls was not alone: after all, Follain suggests, Pope John Paul II knew of the murder-suicide but did nothing to determine why the young, decorated guard had killed the man who only that afternoon had been promoted to commander of the Swiss Guard. And no wonder: according to one of Follain’s informants, "The Holy Father is so ill he’s become a prisoner of the Curia," a religious Mafia if ever there were one--or so we’re to believe. Follain argues that Tornay and Estermann had had an affair, that Tornay had complained loudly and frequently of the laxness of security and the ridiculousness of rules that prevented the Swiss Guard from carrying guns whiledressed in their striped-pantaloon finery, and that in all events a heavy animosity between the French and German Swiss who make up the security unit keeps all involved from doing their jobs effectively. All understandable motives for murder, one supposes, but not necessarily strong evidence for malfeasance and conspiracy at the highest levels of the Church.
That scenario will be of interest to those convinced that the Illuminati run the world. Others may want to wait for the movie.