Friday, 26 March 1999

Jane Langton: The Dante Game (1991)

Edition: Penguin, 1992
Review number: 234

Homer Kelly, Jane Langton's detective, is more prominent throughout The Dante Game than he was in the other novel by her that I have read. As a professor at Harvard, he is asked to take a course in modern Italian literature at the American School in Florence, basically an establishment catering for American students wanting to spend a year studying in Florence.

The American School co-incidentally - and how many times does that word need to be used when describing the plots of crime novels - starts being used as a cover by a group of men plotting to assassinate the Pope, who will be coming to Florence to bless the celebrations of the nine hundredth anniversary of the inauguration of the cathedral there.

Kelly, who was a policeman in Boston before he became a professor at Harvard, begins his own investigation when the conspirators begin murdering some of those working for the school who they think may have tumbled to their secret.

The assassination attempt, incidentally, is organised by drugs barons appalled by the success of a campaign sponsored by the Pope targeting teenagers. They have convinced the man who will actually pull the trigger that it is part of a campaign by certain cardinals to further a progressive agenda for the Catholic church - the ordination of women, the end of celibacy for the priesthood, abandoning anti-contraception teaching. I have heard this last item used as a justification for declaring the Pope the most evil man on earth - which is a rather extreme view.

This plot is perhaps a weak point in the book. In a straight thriller, you might expect this sort of attack to be made on one of the world's institutions; it would certainly not be out of place in a Bond story. In a crime series, you normally expect a more domestic level of violence. Doing something unusual in a genre is usually worth applauding, but Langton doesn't quite carry it off; the suspension of disbelief doesn't quite happen.

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