Murder comes to a Donegal home for priests about whom the Irish Catholic Church has decided that, as one of them says, “it wasn’t working for us elsewhere.”
Who on earth would want to kill Fr. Matthew McKaye? Fr. “Tubsey” McIntyre, who’s eager enough to fill in Garda Inspector Graham Starrett about the peccadillos of his fellow lodgers, has no idea. Neither has Fr. Fergus Mulligan, the Ulsterman who found him sitting as dead as the grave in St. Ernan’s kitchen. The same goes for Fr. Robert O’Leary, Fr. Peter Casey, and Fr. Michael Clerkin. Ancient Fr. Peregrine Dugan, ensconced as usual in his own room as he toils away on his life’s labor, a history of Ireland, rouses himself just long enough to say that he never met the man. Fr. Patrick O’Connell and Fr. Gene McCafferty are too busy covering up their own rumored secrets to have interested themselves in Fr. McKaye’s. And Bishop Cormac Freeman, who also shared the residence, had just invited the young victim to join his parish. So cui bono? Reeling from the impending death of his beloved boss, Maj. Newton Cunningham, Starrett shifts several rounds of questioning and sifting to the capable shoulders of Sgt. Packie Garvey, Garda Romany Browne, and Ban Garda Nuala Gibson, and they patiently peel back layer upon layer of misdeeds, uncovering adultery, gambling, serial swindling, and of course sexual predation as they puzzle over the mysterious bullet that killed Fr. McKaye and then vanished without leaving an exit wound. But it’s a most unlikely analogy to Salome and John the Baptist that eventually leads Starrett to his killer.
Charles (Down on Cyprus Avenue, 2014, etc.) makes Starrett’s third case leisurely, literate, ingenious, improbable, and as old-fashioned as the idea that priests are pillars of private morality.