Cardinal Stephan Bem’s task is a thankless one. In an unnamed eastern bloc country, the primate of its Catholic Church strives for a moral cohesion that will prevent the country being plunged into civil strife and possible invasion from its more powerful neighbours.
To the anti-communists, Bem has sold out to a repressive regime and its atheism: to the state police, the Cardinal is “a sworn enemy of socialism.” Neither side trusts him – and the rise of anti-State pamphleteering with more than a hint of Church involvement puts Bem, the Church and the country at risk. An attempt on his life swiftly followed by his kidnapping brings matters to a head and places the Catholic Church in direct opposition to president General Urban and his authoritarianism.
In its deceptively simplistic narrative and language, The Colour of Blood is a political thriller as well as a meditation on faith in the face of social adversity. Written at the time of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, the role of the Church is questioned by Moore through the conservative musings of Bem. He has achieved a degree of compromise and self-determination for the Church – but to others, he should be fomenting open-rebellion.
Likely to have been more topical and moot at its 1987 publication – hence its shortlisting for the Booker Prize but losing out to Penelope Lively and Moon Tiger – Brian Moore’s short (187 pages) novel is something of a diversion. An entertaining and thoughtful diversion, but a diversion nevertheless.