Book Reviews

Book Review: The Cathedral by Nelson DeMille

I confess to an affinity for Nelson DeMille developed once he commented in a Facebook group I’m in and I discovered he was from my hometown and attended the same high school I did, albeit he graduated the year I was born. I started reading his books and discovered I liked them quite a bit.

The Cathedral hadn’t come across my radar, likely because it’s not available on Kindle. I had to order a paperback. What was nice was the paperback was a reissue, and he commented in a prologue on how much the world had changed since he first wrote this in 1981. The world has changed quite a bit since then. I was 16 at that time and can remember FALN bombings in New York City in my youth. Those weren’t very successful, and we were generally quite naive about terrorism in this country.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day in New York City. There’s a parade and a lot of drinking. The New York City police department has its hands full controlling the drunks and party-goers without interfering too much in the revelry. Patrick Burke is an NYPD Detective Lieutenant with his ear to the ground for possible attacks on this day, when a former IRA fighter and a British official will share the steps on St. Patrick’s Cathedral. No one seriously thinks there is a threat as the IRA has always treated the United States as off-limits to gain sympathy for their cause. Burke is tipped off as to what is going to happen, but it’s too late. A group of Fenians have taken control of the the Cathedral and kidnapped Maureen Malone and Sir Harold Baxter hostage in the Cathedral, along with the Cardinal and a priest.

The novel is filled with intrigue and Burke and the NYPD attempt to gain the release of the hostages while the Fenians, led by Malone’s former lover Brian Flynn, intend to gain the release of their brethren imprisoned by the British or they’ll kill the hostages and destroy the Cathedral.

DeMille has done his research for this book. He talked to many people about not only the background of the IRA and British conflict, but the structure of St. Patrick’s Cathedral itself. Some things have been made up for the sake of the story, but he’s detailed enough to get the real feel for being there.

Intrigue abounds and nothing and no one is what it seems. Burke is dealing with local government in New York City who cares more about the political fallout than loss of life, as well as being led around by his tipster who has a different agenda than he’s led to believe. He seems to be the only character looking at the situation objectively and dispassionately. Burke the reader’s view of what is going on and of the IRA and British conflict. He has no stake in the conflict but wants to see the situation end in a way that’s best for everyone. At times he seems to feel for the Fenians but can’t get past the actions they’ve taken. He’s as isolated from the conflict as most Americans of Irish descent were, while at the same time thinking he should care.

All of the characters are well-written. There is one that seems a bit larger than life and perhaps a bit too contrived, but otherwise they are all handled well. None of the characters are absolute heroes or absolute villains (save one or two). I enjoy multi-dimensional characters who aren’t perfect. We have a plethora of those in this novel.

I didn’t know how The Cathedral would end. What I was thinking would happen didn’t. My hunches didn’t pay off and I had to keep reading to find out who lived and who died and if the Cathedral survived. At 710 pages, this was not a quick read, but it was a very enjoyable one.

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