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McInerny, who's alternated lately between dark-hued character studies (Mom and Dead, 1993, etc.) and his Father Roger Dowling mysteries, tries his hand at a combination plate in this generously fashioned, punishingly paced look at the epidemic of annulled marriages in the US Church. The story kicks off when Father Dowling's offered a pair of coveted USC -- Notre Dame tickets designed to lure him to a South Bend, Ind., conference whose special guest will be iron-willed conservative Cardinal Josef Hildebrand. Before he can get to the 45-yard line, though, Father Dowling, recently escaped from the local marriage tribunal that grants annulments, will have to listen to Michael Geary and Maureen Furey accuse each other of ruining their marriage, then get updates every hour after Geary -- who's already weathered an organist's accusation of unwanted sexual advances -- is found dead (strangled? poisoned?) in the back of his car. Surviving him are, among others, his son Brian, a self-tormented hermit who insists he killed his father, and his brother-in-law, Gordon Furey, the police suspect, who exonerates himself by getting killed in the back of his car. Also on hand are Catherine Burger, Geary's sweetie; her son Freddy, president of Victims of Canon Law; somebody who has an unaccountable attachment to plastic dashboard madonnas; and the world's most inept kidnapper. McInerny's attempt to move in on Andrew Greeley territory -- surely a crossroads in his distinguished career -- doesn't quite come off: His convincingly troubled supporting cast keeps running away with -- or from -- the routine whodunit, as if they'd just as soon be rid of Father Dowling and all his works.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1994
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: St. Martin's