|Andrew M. Greeley: The Bishop Goes to the University|
Doherty Associates (Hardcover), ISBN 0765303337
Father Andrew Greeley's alter-ego, Bishop John Blackwood (Blackie) Ryan, returns to print to solve another mystery. In The Bishop Goes to the University (italics intentional), the inoffensive but wisecracking Blackie investigates the murder of a Russian monk at the University of Chicago's School of Divinity. There Blackie faces a victim who may not be what he seems, a locked room puzzle and a variety of feckless faculty members. As the plot unfolds, the murder mystery deepens into a tale of international intrigue involving the CIA, the KGB, the Vatican, the Mafia and several religious sects so obscure I never heard of them before. Blackie patiently steps through the web, untangles it and neatly ties it up.
Greeley's characterizations of Catholic clergymen fascinated this non-Catholic reader. It turns out bishops and even cardinals cuss, think about women, and question the motives and wisdom of the Vatican. Who knew? Greeley's female characters impressed me less. They range from Dorie Keane, the improbably youthful, giggly and (of course) attractive dean of the divinity school, to Patrice Comerford, the equally improbably bitter, man-hating feminist scholar. Blackie handles both of them masterfully (of course), leaving the former forever devoted to him and the latter lined up for her comeuppance.
The Church itself takes a fair amount of heat from Greeley. Blackie blames its failings on Jesus, who foolishly left human beings in charge rather than tending to it himself. Greeley's Vatican uses devoted followers as pawns in the ceaseless quest to extend the power and domination of Catholicism worldwide. Church leaders coldly place operatives in perilous situations and abandon them when plans fail. Blackie rides to the rescue, blackmailing Vatican officials into doing the right thing by threatening to expose their malfeasance.
In spite of his less-than-flattering portrait of the Church as a whole, Greeley's religious sentiments flow through his prose. As Blackie fights the good fight, he (in first person) inserts snippets of reverence. In Blackie's view, the love between two of the book's characters --- or between any man and woman --- replicates the love of God for humankind. Blackie's (and presumably, Greeley's) faith and devotion never waver, even as the predatory nature of the Church becomes clear.
A prolific author of fiction and non-fiction books, Greeley writes with a spare style and a tone that somehow manages to be sarcastic and reverent at the same time. The Bishop Goes to the University amuses and informs the reader and makes one suspect that the Catholic faith might be something bigger than the fallible institution of Catholicism.
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