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The Devil's Own by R. A. Scotti (Donald I. Fine: $16.95; 290 pp.)

November 03, 1985|Mark Schorr | While a reporter in New York, Schorr specialized in covering organized crime. His fourth novel is "Bully" (St. Martin's). and

This is a novel of financial chicanery, drugs, sex, the Mafia, and murder, with much of the action revolving around the Vatican.

Hard to believe?

In this Roman roman a clef , author R. A. Scotti appears to draw from the scandalous true story of Michele Sindona.

Before the Italian government accused Sindona of looting more than $200 million from Milanese banks, he had built an empire that allegedly opened loopholes in Italian banking laws for more than 500 Italian industrialists. He apparently had the unwitting help of Vatican bank officials.

Sindona, the son of a poor Sicilian farmer, befriended Pope Paul VI in 1962, and by exploiting that relationship, within 10 years had an international empire of holding companies that stretched from Liechtenstein to the United States.

That is all fact. Scotti, using "Stefano Carlatti" as his main character, tells the story of a poor Sicilian who befriends the Pope, etc., etc.

Forced to flee to the United States, as Sindona did, Carlatti must battle tenacious investigators and hostile business rivals. He uses a sultry woman banker to seduce the investigators, the Mafia to muscle them, Vatican officials and blackmailed associates to try to rein them in.

"The Devil's Own" is a fast-paced juxtaposition of fact and fiction, that really takes off once an American investigator begins his odyssey along the heroin trail, backtracking toward Carlatti.

There are exotic locales, absorbing details about Italian life, an understandable explanation of the sophisticated world of money-laundering, and insight into this modern-day Machiavelli.

Whether Scotti has inside information on the Sindona affair is for the reader to decide. The author's brief biography notes that Scotti "descends from a family on personal terms with the Papacy and a recent Pope."

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