cover image Chopin in Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer

Chopin in Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer

Tad Szulc. Scribner Book Company, $29.5 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-684-82458-1

An assassin's bullet wounds Pope Gregory XVII, who instructs a Jesuit priest to find out who's behind the murderous plot in Szulc's plodding fictionalization of the mystery surrounding the 1981 assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II. The Jesuit detective is ex-CIA agent Tim Savage, who became a priest after suffering a crisis of conscience while operating death squads in Vietnam. Savage soon realizes that the would-be assassin was a front man for a much more insidious secret group conspiring to kill the pope. Tracing this conspiracy proves improbably easy, since everyone from Turkish terrorists to Muslim imams to Catholic archbishops readily provide clues. Savage's findings are eventually buried by the Vatican, but not before some convenient accidents give the bad guys their just deserts. Szulc (Chopin in Paris), a New York Times foreign and diplomatic correspondent from 1955 to 1972, states in the book's afterword that he uncovered the real-world conspiracy to assassinate the pope while researching material for his 1995 biography of John Paul II. He chose fiction to reveal the truth to the world, he says, ""in order to honor commitments of discretion to my principal sources."" A noble intention, perhaps, but the resulting book has neither the integrity of journalism nor the drama of accomplished fiction. Static dialogue flattens the characters, and suspense flags. Unless readers have a working knowledge of recent French and Vatican politics, the revelation of the figures behind the assassination attempt will fall largely on deaf ears (especially since Szulc doesn't provide a key matching characters to their real-life counterparts). In addressing such a dire subject with a coy allegory, Szulc masquerades (alleged) fact as fiction, and does a disservice to both. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.]