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Irish Stew! By Andrew M. Greeley




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Watery and Tasteless

Readers of Father Andrew Greeley’s mysteries have become accustomed and tolerant to his clumsy handling of sexual relations, because of his fine ability to develop characters who behave with integrity, care and love, especially when in crisis. Usually, Greeley’s novels meander with a quiet and careful pattern of exposition and character development. In his latest novel, Irish Stew!, Greeley presents parallel stories, neither of which leaves the reader satisfied. The outer story takes Nuala Anne McGrail, a heroine he’s developed in other stories, and allows her to have a new, premature baby, while solving an attempted murder. Greeley’s clues were too obvious for this segment, and the perpetrator was clear early in the book. For the remainder of that story, there was little character development, just slow action of characters developed in prior books. Within the novel, there’s a parallel story of the Haymarket riot, for which Greeley shows off his knowledge of Chicago history, and the mystery of which he handles with greater skill than we see in the outer story.

Here’s an excerpt from the Nuala part of the novel, where she’s reflecting on a journalist’s manuscript of the Haymarket riot (the inner story in this novel), where Greeley shows off his skills at capturing Chicago Irish American dialogue:

“ ‘It’s terrible altogether’ – Nuala Anne sniffed as she dabbed at her tissue – ‘but, sure, isn’t our Neddie growing into a wonderful young man.’
We were in her office with the child and the hounds, the latter curled up in opposite corners watching the former intently.
 ‘Sounds like he’s a mere plaything in that woman’s hands,’ I said.
 ‘Isn’t that why he married her? And himself a boxer!’
 ‘That’s worse than being an overgrown linebacker!’
Nuala lowered her reading glasses, which she had to use with Ned’s script and glanced over them at me.
 ‘Tis not! Aren’t both fine manly exercises, so long as the man …’
 ‘Does what his wife tells him to do?’
 ‘Me very thought!’
Socra Marie was in a crib at her mother’s feet, kicking her legs up and down with great glee, having just discovered that she could do it.
 ‘I’ll admit that he has become a tough and sensitive journalist. He still has to get over his feeling that he’s inferior to that wild man who is his father.’
 ‘I think the General is cute! I can hardly wait to meet the mother, can we, Socra Marie?’”

The sum of the two parts didn’t equal one good novel. Readers who are fans of Greeley will read this one anyway. Others can wait for his next book, or revisit an earlier, better novel.

Steve Hopkins, March 13, 2002


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