#4: The Devil's Advocate by Morris West. This one is my book group's selection for February (we are reading most of the Loyola Classics series this year). And I'm finished early! The Devil's Advocate is the story of a priest, Fr. Blaise Meredith, who finds he is dying of cancer. He has always worked in Rome, as part of the office that investigates people proposed for sainthood. Facing the end of his life, he struggles with coming to terms with whether his life has had meaning--or has it just been a shuffling of papers, adding nothing to the world in a real sense.
The Cardinal that he works for asks him to take on one last case--to be the Devil's Advocate in the case of Giacomo Nerone. Was he the saint the villagers think him to be? Or not? What about the illegitimate son? What of his unknown past?
But more than a story of Giacomo Nerone, it is a story of a man, in the last months of life, finding the human contact (and the human messiness) that his life has lacked. The book is more than fair--in Fr. Meredith's thoughts we see how the institutional Church MUST move slowly in things. How necessary the time, the reflection, the decision-making is. But it also points out how that can make it difficult for the priest "on the ground" to sort out what is going on. And how different it is dealing with people, and the complex web of good and bad they exist in, from dealing with pages of depositions and evidence.
Morris' great achievement was to show this without demonizing the Vatican (as would be oh, so popular today) or demonizing the poor village priest who has fallen into scandal.
A worthwhile read. Four stars out of five.
#5: Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey. Interesting mystery told in an intriguing way. You know from the very beginning that Brat is an imposter. He is not the lost Patrick Ashby, the oldest son of a family, who is now old enough to come into his inheritance. But how will the family find out? And what really DID happen to Patrick Ashby eight years ago? And how can a man running a scam be so very likeable?
Another 4 out of 5--for its genre.
Next book up--and I'm almost 1/2 way through--Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. Found in the clearance bin at Half Price Books.