Thursday, May 4, 2017

Irish Alibi by Ralph McInerny (Minotaur, 2007)


R
alph McInerny, author of Irish Alibi, wrote over forty books, including the popular Father Dowling mystery series; with respect to McInerny's impressive body of work, I defer to other reviewers who have been effusive in their praise. Now, looking at Irish Alibi, my introduction to McInerny's work, I must instead focus on this mystery's notable strengths and its minor flaws.

When Magnus O'Toole (published author and veteran sportswriter from Atlanta) and Quintin Kelly (fellow Notre Dame alumnus from the class of '77) converge, as if by accident, at South Bend, Indiana, on the weekend of the big Notre Dame versus Georgia Tech football game, problems are on the horizon for both of these two unsuspecting Fighting Irish alumni. As luck (of the Irish?) would have it, O'Toole's wife - in whom Kelly has more than a passing acquaintance and interest - is also in town and staying at the Tranquil Motel.

In the meantime, Notre Dame student Sarah Kincade's two brothers (in whom the spirit of the Confederacy is alive and well) are visiting from Memphis, and soon they are intent upon perpetrating a great prank (or is it an incident of mean-spirited vandalism and post-Civil War retaliation): the statue of Reverend William Corby (a hero of the Civil War) is toppled from its perch, and much of the Notre Dame community is up in arms (i.e., the Yankees and Confederates are once again at each others' throats).

Then the problems in South Bend escalate: O'Toole's wife whose scandalous behavior has raised the eyebrows of one or more interested parties has been found dead in - you guessed it - the Tranquil Motel. And - you guessed it again - O'Toole becomes at first the prime person of interest, and then he becomes the arraigned suspect.

However, don't jump to conclusions based on the obvious evidence in Irish Alibi because quicker than you can say Knute Rockne, the number of suspects in the woman's death begins to multiply, and (in the less serious case) the so-called suspect(s) in the toppling of Reverend Corby may be vindicated because of a case of either mistaken identity or intentional duplicity or something else altogether. Perhaps something like divine wrath is the agent of criminality at the otherwise tranquil campus in the North; on the other hand, the solution for all of the campus's latest ills may take something resembling divine intervention - either in the unlikely Falstaffian form of Roger Knight, Professor of Catholic Studies, or his brother Philip Knight, the occasional private investigator.

As the accomplished author McInerny weaves a complicated and humorous plot in which characters' confusion and errors dominate the action (but in which awkward streams-of-consciousness result in disorienting shifts in point of view and time), nothing is what it seems at good old Notre Dame. This good-natured imitation of golden age mysteries will appeal to plenty of readers, including die-hard McInerny fans; my reading of Irish Alibi, however, leaves me uncertain about whether or not I will be seeking out other works from this talented author. Perhaps, like Irish whiskey (and some Irish cuisine), Irish Alibi requires an acquired taste.




9 comments:

  1. Wow!! Quite a switch in book types! And I must sAy, an "intriguing" one... I remember looking mcinerny's work upon occasion with not whole lot of interest, but your post causes me to give some thought... As usual, your analysis is informative and clear... Tx for the recommend...

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  2. Indeed, Mudpuddle, I am changing my reading habits. The reasons are irrelevant, but the bottom line goal is escape and amusement. Three cheers for escaping reality! More escapist reading reviews coming soon!

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    1. Escapist is good, lim... The so-called real world is so full of pain and distraction that soon becomes impossible to deal with, at least for my poor brain... It's quite refreshing to deal with one problem at a time... That's my excuse, anyway...

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    2. Yes, reality is overrated!

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  3. Thanks for sharing this, Tim. I admit I've not (yet) read it, but it sounds like a well-structured story.

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  4. Tim,

    Seems like a very complex tale to me. I must confess I've never even heard of McInery, but I do vaguely remember watching some of the Father Dowling TV mysteries.

    Thanks for the review; it's always good to encounter new authors, in spite of what it does to my search list.

    And I have to disagree with Mudpuddle: Reality is actually underrated, otherwise why do we need to escape it at times. Reality is overpowering at times.

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    1. Fred, it's hard to erase the image of Mr. Cunningham!

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  5. Yes, reality is overpowering at times, and that hints at my switch to detective fiction, a genre in which imitation life moves from stasis to chaos and back to stasis thanks to detectives and crime solvers. Order is always restored. Reality and order are too frequently divorced in life.Three cheers for good order!

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  6. Tim,

    Agreed: order is restored far more frequently in the mystery than in any other genre. However, I don't read the Harlequin romance type of novel, so that may have restore order (as defined in the romance as marriage or at least cohabitation for ever after) more often than the mystery.

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