The 1980’s was the decade in which Brian Moore’s reputation became firmly established.  The Colour of Blood, shortlisted for the Booker Prize,  won the Sunday Express Prize, the Canadian Authors’ Association Prize and the Hughes prize.  One of Moore’s thrillers, I came to it with high expectations, having loved both book and film of The Statement.

I can’t say this one thrilled me though. The ending was too obvious.  Maybe I’ve read too much Moore but I knew that the loose thread in chapter one would be used to sew things up neatly.  The ride to that ending is a 4-day roller-coaster which sees Cardinal Steven Bem, stripped of his regalia, finery and privileges, forced into the life of a fugitive before staging a triumphant return to silence his politically-motivated peers …

Did I mention the word politics?  What’s that got to do with religion?  Do the two mix?  Should they indeed?  Those questions form the underlying theme of Moore’s novel.  Even if the setting is now consigned to history (the novel is set in a Soviet satellite state), the theme is as relevant today as it was in the 1980’s.  The Catholic clergy of this unnamed country – nonetheless clearly Poland – is divided.  Bem is the voice of moderation.  He will accommodate the State provided it does not impose itself on the doctrine of the Church.  Others, however, see things differently and wish to incite the citizens to action.  4 days before an importance religious festival, an assassination attempt is made on Cardinal Bem, after which he is taken, unwillingly,  into protective custody.

The question is who are his would be assassins and who are his captors?  The Communist state or an extreme branch of the Catholic church which will not reconcile itself to Bem’s point-of-view. 

We still live under tyranny: the tyranny of an age when religious beliefs have become inextricably entwined with political hatreds.

As in Lies of Silence Moore depicts religious extremism as a destructive force.  However, for once, and I have to say that for me this was the particular and refreshing strength of The Colour of Blood, we see Moore convincingly depict the mindset of a sincerely religious man, a man of conscience.  Cardinal Bem may have developed an arrogance to accompany his high office but his private,  prayerful moments are humble and devout.

I am Your servant, created by You.  All that I have I have through You and from You.  Nothing is my own.  I must do everything for You and only for You.  Tonight at the meeting I was obsessed by politics.  I thought of the danger to our nation.  I did not think of the sufferings we cause You by our actions.  My fault, my most grievous fault.

Impressive words from the pen of a devout atheist.


(Originally posted on on 05/06/2008.)