The Bishop Goes to The University by Andrew M. Greeley
Rating: •• (Mildly Recommended)
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Father Andrew Greeley reprises one of our favorite characters, Bishop Blackie Ryan, in his new novel, The Bishop Goes to The University. As readers would expect, Bishop Blackie is called in by his boss, Cardinal Cronin, to solve a murder mystery. The surprise is that the murder took place in an ivory tower of The University, which all know is the University of Chicago. Here’s an excerpt from chapter one that sets up what’s happening (pp. 11-17):
"One cardinal ought to be enough for Chicago, ought he not. Blackwood?"
His Eminent Lordship Scan, Cardinal Priest of the Roman Church, Cronin towered over me, like a crimson watered silk alien from another planet. Cardinals who are tall (only a few) and handsome (even fewer) and with powerful presence (yet fewer still) can create that illusion. No one of this world would walk around in cardinalatial choir robes in daylight. He might, however, be a character from a Fellini movie or someone playing Richelieu in a theater of the absurd production from North Lincoln Avenue. In any event his hooded blue eyes were wide-open, his forehead furrowed in a deep frown, and his lips pressed together in either serious thought or suppressed anger.
"Arguably," I said, glancing up from my computer, "more than enough."
I had just returned from a bootless trip to Rome. A certain dicastry of the Roman Curia had wanted to consult with me on a problem. By which they meant they wanted to tell me what they thought and could not have cared less about what I thought. They were doing me a favor by talking to me.
"Yet we seem to have another."
"How unfortunate." I sighed in West of Ireland protest.
Milord Cronin opened my liquor cabinet, removed from the back of it a precious container of Bushmills Single Malt and poured himself considerably more than a splasheen in one of my recently cleaned Waterford tumblers.
"That would solve the problem, would it not?"
I turned away from my workstation. The Cardinal deposited a large stack of output on the floor and reclined on my couch. In full robes with a drink in hand (though it was only early afternoon on a radiant October day), he did look a little like the cinematic version of Armand-Jean de Plessis, due de Richelieu—if one were to imagine that worthy to have been Irish.
"No, that creates the problem."
Aha, the harmless, indeed almost invisible little auxiliary bishop was about to be dispatched on a mystery-solving expedition.
"There are always a few kooks wandering around this city," he said, sipping cautiously from uisce beatha as the Irish were pleased to call the Creature. "This is good stuff, Blackwood," he interrupted his train of thought. "You think they will have it in heaven?"
"Minimally it and sex."
He sighed, not, however, as loudly as I can sigh.
"My own tailor makes crimson robes for them, though he doesn't want me to know about it. They're not really authentic, but parading down Thirty-first Street in what they think is full regalia gives them a kick, I guess."
"As do the several troubled folk who insist on donning papal white. It is, after all, a free city. From the point of view of those who are not of the household of the faith. We're all kooks."
On occasion I have had to persuade some such persons not to enter a ceremony at the Cathedral over which I preside at the Lord Cardinal's pleasure. They depart quietly with sad eyes when I tell them that their presence would greatly trouble Milord Cronin, which may be a touch of an exaggeration.
"This Russian fellow, however, left a full set of choir robes in his closet. They seem to be authentic . . ."
"That's right, you've been off in Rome, haven't you? This Semyon lvanivich Popov who was killed in a locked office of the Divinity School at The University the other night."
In Chicago there are many universities. However, only one is identified as The University, mostly because of frequent repetition of the italicized word by its denizens.
He handed me a sheaf of clippings from Chicago papers.
"Interesting name . . ."
"He was Russian. They all have funny names."
"Simon, son of John, priest? Or if you wish, Simon bar Jona, Pope?"
"The cops tell me that the robes included a pallium. None of the crazies bother with that."
The pallium is a small decoration made of wool, which only archbishops can wear.
I glanced through the clippings.
"No mention of the sacred crimson in the press."
"Cops have kept it secret."
"Aha," I said, "does not his late Eminence look much like Grigori Yefimovich?"
"Who?" He looked up from his tumbler of Bushmills.
"The inestimable and legendary Rasputin."
Cardinal Popov was standing in front of the Divinity School in the flowing robes of Russian monasticism, complete with the hood that was propped up in front and added several inches to his already impressive height and his staff. With dark, flasliing eyes, broad shoulders, a long gray beard, and the frown that is required in such pictures, he was a central-casting Russian monk. He must have created quite a stir at The University.
"He's dead, isn't he?"
"He was thrown into a freezing river in 1915, but there have been disputed about whether he survived and may still survive."
"This guy was teaching at the Divinity School out there, something about the Mystical Soteriology of the Old Believers. Whoever they might be . . . I suppose you are informed about the subject."
"One could summarize them by saying that they were fundamentalist Orthodox who went into schism over a new translation of the Bible. They were murdered in great numbers by various czars who didn't like dissidents of any sort . . . Have our mutual friends across the pond made any inquiries about Brother Semyon's death?"
Color that beard black and he would look like Rasputin. A man who lived over a hundred and forty years had the right to a white beard, did he not?
"Not a word. Finally, after a couple of days, I called them. Pretty high-level too. All I heard was what a fine scholar Brother Semyon was and what a tragedy his death was and how terrible the American crime rate was."
"They're hiding something?"
"Maybe. That's the way they would talk if they were. But then they may not know anything either . . . How come he's in all those departments? Does he collect salaries from all of them?"
I glanced at the text of the articles. Semyon Popov was a visiting professor in the Divinity School, the Slavic Languages Department, the Committee on Social Thought, the Center for International Studies, and the College.
"Only prestige. The more departments which list you, the more important you are."
"So he was pretty important?"
"More likely as a Russian monk he was pretty fashionable."
"Blackwood, what the hell goes on in that part of the world?"
"The Vatican or the University?"
"I mean out where Russia and Poland come together?"
"It's kind of like the Pecos River in Texas, where there's no law west of. . . Between the Vistula and the Volga there isn't much in the way of natural boundaries. So invaders have swept across those plains for a couple of thousand years—Goths, Huns, Teutons, Slavs, Wends, Magyars, Vikings, Mongols. A few of each group stayed there either on the way in or the way out. Maybe even a few Celts who headed west when the last ice age ended. The borders keep changing so at any given time, half the people are in a country they don't want to be in. There's lots of religions there too, four or five brands of Orthodoxy, a couple of Catholic Byzantine groups, and, of course, the Latin Rite Poles. It's borderland, a region of the world made to order for conspiracy and shenanigans."
As I lectured my eyes drifted briefly to the portraits of three Johns on the wall of my study, childhood heroes—the Pope, the president, and the quarterback. Now all three were dead, John Unitas being the last one to have gone home. 0 lente, lente curnte noctis equi.
"We've had underground operations there, I presume?"
"Sure. Probably still do. Some of them as independent of Vatican control as were those Czech bishops who ordained women when the Iron Curtain was still working."
"And the various popes have appointed certain cardinals in petto—secret until they want to reveal it . . . Most of them one kind of Eastern European or another . . ."
"A nice touch," I admitted, "though hardly displaying the transparency that is supposed to be our hallmark these days."
He dismissed this cavil with a wave of his hand, the one with the ring, not the one holding my Bushmills.
"OK, Blackwood, let's say for the sake of the argument that Brother Semyon was in fact a Catholic bishop in the underground over there and that he did such a good job that they gave him the red hat in petto. Why would he travel around with choir robes if it were all a secret?"
. "Or even possess them. One suspects that the FSB, nee KGB, would find that disturbing . . . It says here that his head was blown off by a shotgun!"
Milord Cronin grimaced.
"Messy, but quick."
He drained his tumbler.
"How, then, did the vigilant Chicago police identify him?"
"It was his office, and his robes. Who else would it have been?"
He searched for a place to put the Waterford and finally set it on the top of my computer output.
"They thereupon sought confirmation from fingerprints or DNA?"
"His apartment was swept clean of all traces. There were plenty of fingerprints in his office, however. The Russians don't know who Brother Semyon is. Or was."
"If it were really him."
He rose from my couch with more alacrity than I could have managed.
"There is also the possibility," I added, "that he identified in some fashion with the Avignon crowd."
That stopped Milord dead in his tracks, just as he reached the door of my office.
I forebore from correcting him by saying "whom."
"It is said that there is a remnant of the Avignon papacy that still survives. Rejecting as they do the solution of the Council of Basle to the Great Western Schism, a few elderly French clerics gather together when their pope dies and elect a new pope, who promptly concedes jurisdiction to the false antipope in Rome for the good of the Church. He then appoints a few more elderly French clerics to choose his successor when that becomes necessary."
"That was five hundred years ago!"
"More like seven hundred!"
"Why would they bother?"
"You know the French . . ."
He turned in the doorway and scowled.
"I don't like any of it at all, Blackwood. One pope is enough. So is one cardinal—unless they make you one as a punishment for your South Side Irish prejudices. I can't have itinerant cardinals wandering around Chicago posing as Russian monks. Or vice versa. Or French popes, or whatever. I want this mess straightened out . . . See to it, Blackwood!"
Thereupon he disappeared down the corridor with much the same éclat as the Superchief when it used to leave Chicago on the rails to storied La La Land.
The Bishop Goes to The University is a pleasant enough mystery that’s somewhat enjoyable to read. I find that Greeley’s dialog gets too tedious after fifty pages or so. Readers who can put up with Greeley’s eccentricities will enjoy this mystery. If you like the dialog in the excerpt above, by all means, go ahead and enjoy this book.
Steve Hopkins, October 28, 2003
ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the November 2003 issue of Executive Times
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