William X. Kienzle, Author . Andrews McMeel $22.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7407-2229-5

If at times Kienzle seemingly walked in the shadow of that other popular Catholic priest crime author, Andrew Greeley, this highly intelligent, wonderfully human and compassionate novel, the 24th in his Father Koesler series, is a reminder of how good a writer he could be. Sad to say, the author's recent death means that it's the last in the series, which began so strongly with The Rosary Murders (1979). More a coming-of-age story than a mystery, this new outing follows six young people from Detroit—four boys intent on the priesthood, two girls on becoming nuns—from their entry into religious life until middle age. Two fail in their ambitions, and one is a fraud through no fault of his own. Kienzle brings them all beautifully to life as he focuses on the Catholic Church during a time of change as well as on the trials of growing up in a Catholic family, in particular the painful ordeal of sexual awakening. He also celebrates the friendships that last a lifetime. A death occurs, but those looking for conventional crime-solving should look elsewhere. As ever, some Catholics may not care for the author's challenges to orthodoxy (he left the priesthood after 20 years and later married), but for everyone else this thought-provoking, philosophical last hurrah will provide rich spiritual satisfaction. (Apr. 26)

FYI:The author died at home in suburban Detroit of a heart attack on December 28, 2001.

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Mass Market Paperbound - 304 pages - 978-0-345-45794-3
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