|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on November 4, 2018 at 10:05 PM|
Though the Edgars are awarded by the Mystery Writers of America, not all of the Edgar Winners for Best Novel feature a mystery, and Peter’s Pence is possibly the least mysterious we have yet encountered. I don’t mean by this that there was a mystery that was easily figured out, but that the focus was on suspense and Cleary did not really attempt to create any hidden perpetrators or at least a central enigma that the hero must figure out. The Light of Day strikes me as the closest precedent, where the caper was everything and there were no mystery.
Without mystery, there isn’t much I can spoil except to reveal that Fergus does end up saving Pope Martin. To prolong the suspense, Cleary engages in a sequence of near escapes that started to feel arbitrary. At one point, the Pope makes a daring, athletic escape on his own and hitches a ride with a sympathetic passerby, who proceeds to accidentally drive him right back to the estate where he was being held in the first place. The authorities catch up with the hero’s girlfriend and nearly find the hide-out, but the caribinieri are murdered by the Nazi hunting the Pope to avenge his father. In some cases these scenes are exciting, I’ll admit, but it begins to feel like a puppet show.
As I have said, this novel annoyed me at the outset by attempting to create a flawed character who abandons his evil ways and then explaining away the flaws and rushing the transformation. At least at the end there is the residual moral dilemma that Fergus, if he is to rescue Pope Martin, has to decide whether to betray his former team and if so, how. But the Nazi conveniently murders the other three members of his ring, leaving him the only conspirator and witness (aside from his girlfriend). This seems rather an uncharitable plot device – in the end Fergus isn’t even arrested but that forgiveness apparently only extends to him.
Ultimately, Peter’s Pence fails what I might call “The Mummy Rule”, i.e., a hero isn’t a hero for fixing a problem that wouldn’t have existed without him. I am thinking of the first Brendan Fraser Mummy story in which the monster would not have even been resurrected if not for the hero’s obsession with reading aloud every curse he sees – so what is heroic about that? Without the plot to steal the Vatican jewels, the Nazi would never have gotten near the Pope to create the need to save him. And the rest of his team, his father-in-law, and several policemen would still be alive…
Categories: Edgar Winner Reviews (Spoilers)