Wednesday, April 11, 2007

God Bless The Irish: Ralph McInerny's Notre Dame Mysteries

Here's a special Guest Blog, written at my request, by Claire Hartford. It is a short review of a series she has very much enjoyed, one that has satisfied her love of mysteries, her attraction to eccentric characters (no comments on her marriage choice, please) and her lifelong affinity, Irish lass that she is, to the University of Notre Dame. I think you'll enjoy it.

I was first introduced to Ralph McInerny through the “Fr. Dowling” mystery series on television. But it was when I heard him speak at one of the American Chesterton Society’s conferences in St. Paul (a talk that was not about Father Brown as I had guessed but rather about Professor McInerny's professional field, philosophy) that I was enticed to read On This Rockne, the first in McInery's series of 10 mystery novels set at the University of Notre Dame.

I was hooked from the very beginning.

The setting was most interesting and appealing. The Knight brothers who investigate the murders were unusual and endearing. And the attention to detail, the campus settin
g and the historic ideals of Notre Dame were intriguing and fun. These all played a part in my thoroughly enjoying this series.

And, not to be dismissed, as quality, page-turning mysteries, they fit the bill as well.

But the central strengths are the series' unique characters Roger Knight, his brother Phil, and the University of Notre Dame itself. The protagonists are close-knit brothers that have moved to Notre Dame from Rye, New York, where they were private investigators for selective cases. Roger received a doctorate from Princeton as a teenager, did a short time in the Navy and then worked with his brother. But Roger's first love was books and it was an eloquent article he wrote that caught the eye of Notre Dame's Fr. Carmody, who awarded Roger the Huneker Chair of Catholic Studies. As a result, Roger can teach almost anything he wants and is a very popular teacher with students.

Phil, on the other hand, had sort of watched out for Roger after their parents had
died and, though he had a successful private investigation business in New York, he jumped at the chance to move with Roger to Notre Dame...most of all to be close to the wonderful world of Notre Dame athletics! So, while Roger is enamored by the great academic history of the school, Phil is enthralled by the “domers” and their enthusiastic support of the Fighting Irish sports teams.

The pattern of most of these short, very readable novels is that Phil is called in by Fr. Carmody to investigate a murder in behalf of the school. (Fr. Carmody is a “reluctant resident of Holy Cross House” who still cherishes the “old” reputation of Notre Dame.) He always urges Phil to try to keep Notre Dame’s reputation untarnished as he tries to solve the mystery and bring the culprits to justice. And with Notre Dame being the largest employer in South Bend, the local officials do what they can to accommodate the same wish.

McInerny has created in Roger Knight a very lovable character, a man of enormous size, generous disposition, and a great love of learning. When he’s not riding around campus on his golf cart, he’s inviting folks to his house to enjoy his skills as host and cook. But neither his size or his various side interests keep him from always helping Phil solve the mystery and preserve the reputation of the school.

Also of delight to me are McInerny's sprinkling in relevant social and cultural topics. For instance, through his characters, the author bemoans how the Catholic faith has become such a target even to some "modernists" on campus. He also brings in provocative reflections on such overarching moral issues as the sanctity of life, truth, honor, commitment to God, and more. And the reader gets to also listen in on discussions about great writers, historical events and, of course, the specific virtues that have made Notre Dame such a beloved and honored university.

I cannot say that one of novels was better than another...because I really enjoyed reading all of them (in order of course) and I encourage you to join in the fun. So even if you're not in any sense a "domer," I think these well-written novels will keep your attention and give you a very pleasurable read.

Ralph McInerny's Notre Dame Mysteries

1. On This Rockne (1997)

2. Lack of the Irish (1998)
3. Irish Tenure (1999)
4. The Book of Kills (2000)
5. Emerald Aisle (2001)
6. Celt and Pepper (2002)
7. Irish Coffee (2003)
8. Green Thumb (2004)
9. Irish Gilt (2005)

10. The Letter Killeth (2006)

Number eleven in the series, Irish Alibi, is due out this September. (You can preorder through Amazon using the above link.)