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Tom Chaney: Papal High Jinks

Papal High Jinks. Tom says Robert Ludlum is the daddy of the quick paced thriller wherein shadowy forces conspire to do in the status quo. This column first appeared 18 October 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Dan Brown and the screenplay as novel

By Tom Chaney

Papal High Jinks

Robert Ludlum is another of those writers who died long before I was finished wanting to read them. Upon his death at 73 he had finished 29 novels. Twice that number would not have been enough, although he left notes and ideas enough that several ghost writers have kept busy.

In many respects he is the daddy of the quick paced thriller wherein shadowy forces -- governmental, industrial, or the like -- conspire to do in the status quo. Such forces are no match for the intrepid hero who can outthink, outmaneuver the villainous government, conspiracy, business.

Coming to the novel from a theatrical background, Ludlum once remarked that the story whether on stage or in the novel thrives on 'what's next.'

It is that quality plus roaring laughter which imbues the novel I just finished rereading.

The cast of The Road to Gandolfo consists of "General MacKenzie Hawkins, legend, hero, rogue. Sam Devereaux, bright young lawyer from Harvard, now in the army, can't wait to get out. General Hawkins's four ex-wives, a quartet of incredibly endowed women who've formed a club: Hawkins's Harem."

The plot is to kidnap Pope Francesco I, the most beloved pontiff since John XXIII.

Hawkins beguiles Sam into the plan, makes him the unwilling executioner of the contractual and financial intricacies of the forty million dollar project.

The reward: A ransom equal to one American dollar for each of the 400,000,000 Catholics in the world -- a ten-fold return.

The problem: The ailing and reform minded Francesco replies, "Why not?"

The kidnapping proceeds. It involves substituting for Francesco a look-alike cousin who is a most unmusical opera singer.

The Pope's health improves in the alternate papal compound designed by Hawkins. He is able to enjoy cooking for his captors, now friends, and he can direct the affairs of the church through his cousin by means of his personal aide, a young black priest from Harlem.

Oh! It's a fine read! In the Ludlum canon it is perhaps equaled only by the other appearance of General MacKenzie Hawkins in The Road to Omaha wherein 'Mac' assumes the identity of the chief of a totally extinct Indian tribe which is in possession of a treaty giving the tribe rights to all of Omaha as well as the bases whereon reside the I C B M's of the nation.

Try one or the other. I defy you to put either down before the finish. And you'll be ready for the next.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-10-19 08:10:21
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