The Conduct of Saints

Christopher Davis. Permanent, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-57962-315-9
There is no easy way into this National Book Award nominated author's latest novel (for A Peep Into the 20th Century), a historical narrative set in the initial year of Allied-occupied Rome. Dense language, political heft, and teasing secrets hold the reader as one follows alcoholic American priest Brendan Doherty in pursuit of his two goals: to discover Alessandro Serenelli’s role in the martyrdom of Maria Goretti—whom he raped and murdered—and to save the life of the condemned Nazi collaborator Pietro Koch (who tortured and murdered thousands). As Davis grapples with the morality of capital punishment, he also explores issues of faith and forgiveness, and more modern topics like sexuality and the ways suppressed emotions creates martyrs of their own. The vivid environment of post-war Rome seems to have saints around every turn, a stark contrast to the detailed accounts of the Vatican's complicity in the holocaust. Despite prose that can be frustratingly oblique, and too many scenes of dialogue-as-exposition set in cafes or bars, the culmination of the trial, execution, and the resulting aftermath leaves the reader with a haunting sense of the past informing our present that only the best historical fiction hopes to achieve. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 03/01/2013
Genre: Fiction
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