Sunday, February 5, 2017

Andrew Greeley's Happy Are The Meek

Happy Are The Meek is the second outing from 1985 in Andrew Greeley's John Blackwood "Blackie" Ryan mystery series. In this volume, Fr. Blackie is a mere Monsignor. In later mysteries, he advances to bishop, and then archbishop. Had Greeley lived long enough, Fr. Blackie would no doubt have become Chicago's mystery-solving cardinal, and possibly even the first murder-solving Pope.

I've read a bunch of Blackie Ryan mysteries completely out of order; they're set in Chicago, my home town, and so, like the V. I. Warshawsky series, for example, they have a certain appeal for me. My father was fond of the series and after he'd read one, I read it. Not infrequently he received the book as a gift from me...

Most of the events in this one take place in Long Beach, Indiana, a resort town for wealthy Chicagoans on the shore of Lake Michigan. (I've never been there.) Wolfe Tone Quinlan is the victim, he owns the house where the crime takes place, the suit of armor, the sword of which is the murder weapon, and it's not inappropriate to say he owns half the suspects, who in one way or another are all dependent on him.

Quinlan is a complete villain. He's abusive to his family (and by the end, we learn even worse.) His partners are criminal or abused. He's a drunk. He supports some sort of creepy devil-worshiping cult. By the end of 40 pages, I was ready to murder him myself. I understand the convenience for plotting of having a thoroughly detested victim, but by then I was half-hoping for an Orient Express-type solution to this one. He was so awful, it was difficult to read about him.

Greeley alternates chapters in Fr. Blackie's voice with chapters in the voice of other characters. The other problem with the novel, I thought, was the other chapters. Blackie Ryan is knowing, arch, amusing. He tends to natter on about his extended Chicago Irish clan who play useful and funny roles in the mysteries: Mike the Cop, his sister Mary Kate the psychiatrist, his various nieces and nephews who refer to him as Uncle Punk. But many (too many) of the early chapters in this were narrated by Lawrence Burke, Quinlan's financial adviser, and desperately and guiltily in lust with the widow. Catholic guilt is completely believable, but it does not amuse.

My preference is also generally for cozy, which the Blackie Ryan mysteries generally are, and this one veers into the grisly.

So all in all, not one of the better Blackie Ryan outings. Without being systematic about it, I would say Greeley improved in the series, but then the very last ones got a little sloppy. The middle ones are the best.

But there's a brunette in a bikini on the cover. I'm not really sure who she's supposed to be, but it takes place in a beach town, so I guess that's OK:

Silver Age. Brunette. My Reader's Block's Mystery Scavenger Hunt.

Also this one has been aging on the shelves here since 2014 when I bought it at the University College Book Sale from the 6 for $5.00 mystery table. So it also counts for My Reader's Block Mount TBR Challenge.

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