It is becoming axiomatic that literary depictions of the workings of the Roman Catholic church should abound with courageous reformers, reactionary cardinals, petty bureaucrats, and disillusioned but still faithful adherents. The Roman church has not been so assailed on all sides since the days of Martin Luther or John Calvin--at least in the pages of countless works of fiction. From the mysteries of William X. Kienzle to the legions of thrillers, political and otherwise, which clog the shelves on an annual basis, the message is the same.

The Catholic church, at least the Vatican hierarchy, is out of touch with the reality of the lives of the laity. Moreover, the ruling prelates are more concerned with personal privilege and private power than with the substance of the message they presumably exist to promulgate. Furthermore, any attempt to alter this state of affairs is doomed to failure as a result of apparent apathy and egocentric villainy. LAZARUS is anything but an exception to the general rule. Ludovico Gaddo, the newly appointed cardinal of THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN who arranged the abdication of a pope in THE CLOWNS OF GOD, is now His Holiness Pope Leo XIV. Leo’s policies have driven the laity and more than a few of his colleagues to the point of open rebellion. Then, Leo is informed that he is in desperate need of bypass surgery. No surgery is without impact on the human organism, but a heart bypass operation can be especially traumatic. Indeed, the psychological consequences of such operations are documented in countless medical studies.

Needless to say, Leo XIV is affected by his operation--so much so, that he resolves to undertake a complete ideological and theological transformation. More important, he is determined to carry the organization he heads down the path to a similar enlightenment. Admittedly, this will not be easy. He must prevail over the same forces he unleashed with his accession to the throne of St. Peter. At the same time, he must contend with the immediate threat to his existence posed by an Islamic terrorist organization.

LAZARUS is a political thriller in the fashion of Robert Ludlum, although West could take a few more lessons from the master of the genre. Still, West understands the dilemmas facing the Roman church, and he effectively communicates that knowledge to his readers--even if they are not of the faith.