Sam Raymond, a photographer for the Weekly, a large American newsmagazine, is sent to Rome to cover the death of Pope Pius XII and the election of his successor. A “solidly built man of thirty-nine,” Sam is a successful professional who has a breezy, assured manner. Arriving in the city in September, some weeks before the Pope actually dies (he is expected to, imminently), the photographer learns that his colleague, Koster, with whom he is expected to work on the story, is not expected until later. Feeling alone and friendless in a strange city, and knowing little Italian, Sam is attracted to the mysterious Carla Caneli, a beautiful woman he encounters in the street outside his hotel. At first, he is drawn to her only physically, but as the days pass, she becomes the object of his passion. Thus, the plot follows a dual track: a romance set against the unfolding drama of a dying Pope and the emergence of a new Vicar of Christ. In the process of his narrative, Morley Callaghan seeks to illuminate the sacred and profane mysteries of life, and the ways in which they impinge upon each other.
The plot concentrates on the relationship of Sam and the woman he knows as Carla. Following their accidental meeting, Sam hires an Italian woman, Francesca Winters, as his guide, translator, and companion for the duration of his assignment. Through her, he meets Alberto Ruberto, a prominent film director, who was formerly Carla’s lover. Despite the warnings by Francesca and Alberto...
(The entire section is 610 words.)