To begin his 21st confrontation with murder, the amiable Father Dowling (Triple Pursuit, 2001, etc.) makes his annual retreat among the Athanasians, a religious order about to go gentle into that good night. No new vocations, no new seminarians, a dwindling coterie of aging priests—now down to seven—it’s a gloomy outlook indeed, except for how flush the order is. For there is Marygrove, a magnificent estate of hundreds of acres in the Chicago suburb of Fox River deeded to the Athanasians in perpetuity by the late magnate Maurice Corbett. Like cats to catnip, like flimflammers to a scam, all sorts of dubious people are drawn to the Marygrove honeypot. Richard Krause, for instance, suddenly appears before unworldly Father Boniface, head of the order, in the guise of a lost sheep begging to be found. Thirty years ago, Krause was Father Nathaniel, until he left to marry and become a successful, albeit shady, financial counselor. Add Leo Corbett, grandson of the beneficent Maurice, full of rancor at what he views as his disinheritance, and a list of equally greedy opportunists to whom winning is everything and murder no worse a sin than failing to fast before Communion. Pretty soon two homicides require attention from Father Dowling, who’s rather more dilatory than usual here. Sleuthing between Masses, he almost misses.
Not as sharp as McInerny’s best, or as plodding as his worst, but comfortably enough in the middle to keep the Dowling faithful from bolting the flock.