Friday, June 30, 2023

Andrew Greeley's Happy Are The Clean Of Heart

Lisa Malone is an Irish Catholic girl from the Chicago. She could sing; she was good-looking; so she went to Hollywood and she succeeded. Now it's 1984 and she's nearly 40 and when she comes back to the old neighborhood, they're happy and envious in about equal measure. Make that measure unequal: more envious.

And on her first night back, somebody beats her to within an inch of her life in a hotel. Now she's in a coma.

Her estranged husband is found standing over the body, the cosh in his hand. He 'says' he interrupted somebody. But he's not the only suspect. There's her agent, who felt like he's the one that made her, her understudy for an upcoming Christmas special, her co-star on that special, a woman from the neighborhood, writing a biography with Lisa's approval,  a Mobbed-up bank vice president who administers Lisa's charitable foundation, her jealous older brother, and a nun who knew Lisa as a girl and whose organization is also the recipient of Lisa's charity.

And, well, Fr. John Blackwood "Blackie" Ryan had opportunity, too, and everybody knew he was in love with her when they were in high school. 

Then there's a second and a third attempt on her life in the hospital.

Blackie Ryan is the hero of a mystery series by Andrew Greeley, himself a priest as well as a professor at the University of Chicago. This is the second in the series, though there is an earlier non-mystery novel with Blackie Ryan as a major character. It takes until that third attempt for Blackie to figure out the villain. "Indeed," as Blackie himself might say.

There's some fun things in it for a Chicagoan. Roger Ebert and Richie Daley make appearances. (That's Richard M. Daley, former mayor of Chicago to you.) Richie is Cook County state's attorney that year. The events take place on the near north side, Chicago's Water Tower, the John Hancock building, Holy Name Cathedral, the Drake Hotel, the Playboy Building (as Blackie can barely bring himself to say, not the Playboy any longer). Lisa Malone's daughter plans on St. Ignatius for her high school, my alma mater.

I've read a bunch of the Blackie Ryan mysteries. My dad liked them, and I read them after he did, frequently because I gave him the new one for Christmas or his birthday. I can't say that this was one of the better ones. I find the early ones a bit overwritten, and Greeley's not the psychologist he wants to be. He pared them down later, and they were better for it. Oh, well...

The novel comes out in 1986 and the movie Amadeus has clearly influenced the plotting.

But it was one of the books I put on my Twenty Books of Summer list!

And it counts for Bev's Vintage Mystery Challenge:

Vintage Mystery, Silver, Knife: a knife is used in the third attempt.


  1. There's something satisfying in reading a book with characters and a setting you know, I think. I find summer is a good time for me to take these sorts on.

    1. And I've also got a Vic Warshawsky mystery on my stack on that very principle!

  2. My dad read a lot of Greeley's mysteries, too. I've never tried one.

    1. I like them, but they're not all equally good, alas...