Sunday, August 22, 2004
The Blackie Ryan Mysteries by Andrew M. Greeley
Happy Are the Meek, Happy Are the Clean of Heart, Happy Are Those Who Thirst for Justice, Happy Are the Merciful, Happy Are the Poor in Spirit, Happy Are Those Who Mourn, Happy Are the Oppressed, The Bishop at Sea, The Bishop and the Three Kings, The Bishop and the Missing L Train, The Bishop in the West Wing
Although I like Andrew M. Greeley’s writing, I don’t necessarily recommend a reading marathon of the Blackie Ryan mysteries, primarily because he has written the books to stand alone, so each book gives you an explanation of the nickname punk, Blackie’s relationship with Mary Kate, and why Mike the Cop is called Mike the Cop. Those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they get a little old if you’re read the same line three days in a row. He does, however, get a little better about this as the series continues, which is good, because I was getting a little tired of reading about Sean Cardinal Cronin’s gallowglass laugh.
The characters are interesting, although sometimes his female characters–especially his teenage female characters–all seem similar, although I suppose that since they are typically Irish American teenage girls, that could account for some of the similarity. But I do like the way he writes his teenage characters–with a decent understanding of what makes them tick.
The only other thing to note is that these books contain a good amount of sex an sexuality–which may come as a surprise to in a book where a priest is the main character (and no, the priest is not the one having sex.)
Happy Are the Meek is the first Blackie Ryan mystery. He is called upon to discover why the mansion of a slain Satanist is haunted, and to determine whether the Satanist actually deserves a Christian burial.
What struck me most about this book, was that the male character had a wife who suffered repeatedly from post partum depression, but at the time (the 50s and 60s if I remember correctly) their church refused to allow them to take steps to keep her from avoiding becoming pregnant, and so she became lost to her illness. What astounded me about the story was the man and his children remained with a church that sent a woman into madness. But that seems to be one of the points of the story, that the church isn’t perfect, and needs forgiveness as much as its members.
In Happy Are the Clean of Heart, Lisa Malone, famous singer and actress, as well as childhood love of Blackie Ryan, is brutally attacked, and Blackie must discover who would do such a thing, without letting his feeling color his judgment.
Happy Are Those Who Thirst for Justice has one of Mary Kate’s patients–Fionna Downs–accused of murdering her grandmother. As the inheritance is large, and Fionna had a public fight preceding the murder, she looks like a good candidate for the killer–especially since many people heard the shot as the granddaughter entered the room.
Blackie Ryan Happy Are the Merciful barely appears in this book until halfway through the story. The point of view for much of the book is that of the prosecuting attorney who has come to Blackie for help in the belief that an innocent woman was convicted. I didn’t care to much for this story–I prefer Blackie Ryan’s point of view.
Happy Are the Poor in Spirit has Blackie Ryan trying to discover who is trying to kill the very rich Bart Cain. Lots of motive to go around, and half the suspects are unlikable, which make deciding whodunit rather difficult, since you’d like the whole lot to be sent away.
Happy Are the Peacemakers sends Blackie Ryan to Ireland to research James Joyce, and while he’s there, he gets wrapped up in a murder mystery. Did the lovely Nora MacDonaugh kill two husbands? Or did she just have very bad luck? This is another book that has much written from the point of view of a character other than Blackie, which seems sometimes just to be an excuse to write about sex. I found the solution rather confusing.
Happy Are Those Who Mourn is one of my favorite mysteries. Blackie Ryan has to discover who–if anyone–killed a rather unlikable priest, and in doing so discovers that there are millions missing from the church accounts.
Happy Are the Oppressed had a story within a story, and I particularly like the historical story, given in the form of letters written by a young maid to her sister home in Ireland. In fact, I think I preferred the characters in the letters to the characters in the current timeline. This is another of my favorite stories.
I liked The Bishop at Sea, although it wasn’t a necessarily my favorite story. It was kind of amusing the have Bishop Blackie wandering around an aircraft carrier.
The Bishop and the Three Kings sends Bishop Blackie to Germany, where he discovers who has stolen the remains of the three kings, and brings along his nephew Peter, partially to help Blackie get around, and partially so that he has another chance with Cindasue, Peter’s love who appeared in previous mysteries, as well as in one of Andrew Greeley’s short story collections All About Women. I really like Cindasue, but I do think that Andrew Greeley failed in making her a completely believable West Virginian: she says you’uns instead of y’all (at least around here, yÃ¢â‚¬â„¢uns or yins is definitely Pennsylvania, while the marvelous y’all belongs to West Virginia (I’ll try not to wax poetic about the beauty of y’all.) Greeley also missed the fact that all of us who are from West Virginia and leave the state have had part, if not all, of the following conversation. “Not Virginia, West Virginia. We’re a separate state. Happened during the Civil War. No, I don’t live near the beach–we’re a land locked state. Yes, we get snow. Every winter.” Other than that, I think that he did a decent job of portraying someone from West (by God) Virginia. There are a couple of disturbing sub-threads in this story, and I believe that he now has a book out on that subject (or so my grandmother told me.)
Initially, I didn’t care for The Bishop and the Missing L Train too much, but the further I read into the story, the more I liked it. The Bishop who goes missing with the L train is not a likable man, yet Blackie puts as much effort and energy into solving his disappearance as he does when those he helps are far more likable. Greely’s characters–at least the ones that Blackie helps–are usually likable, although the suspects of whatever murder or crime has been committed, frequently are not. The story is interesting, although I did have some trouble keeping track of some of the characters, and figuring out who was who.
The Bishop in the West Wing may be my least favorite Blackie Ryan story. The story is very political–much more so than the other stories, and although I actually agree with the stated politics, I just found it at bit much. Bishop Blackie goes to DC to find out who is haunting the white house, and while there stumbles over another mystery. I accidentally read this before The Bishop and the Missing L Train and I’m glad, since I would not have wanted this to be the last book I read in the series.