The Piedmont Conspiracy

James Washburn, Author Madison Books $21.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1-56833-075-4
A $10 million dollar ransom payment to save Roman Jews in 1943 lies at the heart of this tepid first thriller. That payment was ""diverted"" by Monsignor (now Cardinal) Massara and used to create an investment company called Aspis, whose multibillion-dollar portfolio is tied to the Italian Mafia and powerful forces within the Vatican. Aspis, run by Massara's half-brother, comes to the attention of Eliot Bradford, head of the financial detective firm FINVEST, when a good friend of Bradford's is murdered and the death is made to look like a suicide. Bradford sets off to find out the truth, which involves a sinister plot to be uncovered, a sadistic killer to be avoided and two beautiful women to be wooed. There's also a priest who used to be an Olympic weightlifter, and a well-meaning New York City cop, both of whom join in the search for papers that can prove that Aspis was born from the stolen Nazi ransom. Despite the potential for thrills in this plot, Bradford's quest and other elements in the novel, especially the Vatican intrigue, are mechanical and derivative. The writing is weak as well; Washburn (the pen name of Washburn Oberwager and James C. Hutson-Wiley, two financial partners) generates lackluster prose, from dialogue to description (""`You killed Mama and Elena?' Bochlaine screeched at the attacker.... `Then die with me, you vermin!' "") As a result, very little in this story works, including the ending, which is bleak, open-ended and indicative of a sequel--a prospect that will leave readers shrugging their shoulders indifferently. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/11/1996
Release date: 11/01/1996
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