cover image A Cardinal Offense

A Cardinal Offense

Ralph M. McInerny. St. Martin's Press, $21.95 (372pp) ISBN 978-0-312-11283-7

In the 17th Father Dowling mystery (following Seed of Doubt), McInerney delivers a history of the American Catholic Church's stand on marriage and separation, the Vatican's view of this stance and some varying attitudes of priests and laity. Suspense suffers from the process. A man, pursuing an annulment, and his wife, who is opposed, meet separately with Fr. Dowling in St. Hilary's rectory on the same day that the priest receives two surprise tickets to the next Notre Dame-Southern California football game. The husband says his wife was never really a Catholic; she insists that the 30-year marriage and the couple's grown children remain valid. After the man is murdered, Dowling and his cop friend Phil Keegan consider possible suspects, including the victim's brother-in-law, who has been arrested for the crime, and the couple's son, a religious fanatic who has confessed to the murder. Dowling, who has agreed to attend a meeting of the Bishop's Committee on Marriage and the Family in return for the tickets, has misgivings as game day approaches. With a heavy hand, McInerny intertwines the two plots in a tale likely to disappoint the good father's most ardent fans. (Nov.)