Commentary: The Bishop Goes to the University

Posted 26 February, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

The Bishop Goes to the University: A Bishop Blackie Ryan Novel
By: Andrew M. Greeley
Format/Source: Mass bound paperback; my copy

The irrepressible Bishop Blackwood Ryan returns as his Cardinal dispatches Blackie to The University on the South Side of Chicago to investigate a baffling locked-room mystery. Someone has assassinated a Russian Orthodox monk in his office at the Divinity School-despite the fact that the door of his office was bolted shut from the inside and no killer was found within.

Who shot Brother Semyon Ivanivich Popov? There were only four professors in the building on the night of the shooting: a feminist theologian, a distinguished scripture scholar, an expert on the Talmud, and a young tenure-seeking professor whom Blackie compares to a silverback gorilla.

It turns out that the mystery of the locked room is simple compared to the international intrigue that swiftly develops around the case. Intelligence agents from diverse nations seem to be involved, as well as both the Sicilian and Russian mobs. Blackie soon finds himself the target of threats and actual bullets as he seeks to unravel the deepening mystery surrounding the murdered monk-whose murky secrets may stretch all the way to the Vatican itself!

Murder is more than academic in yet another delightful whodunit by one of America’s most popular storytellers.

I honestly don’t remember how I first came by this book and this series. Maybe it was a newspaper article or a website but I was intrigued at the idea of a Catholic priest sleuthing. This particular title especially caught my attention because it involved university insitutions and Russian Orthodoxy. I remember enjoying it the first time around; it’s a slim volume but it’s jam-packed with story and characterisation. I decided to re-visit it after my mum bought a whole slew of his novels following the author’s passing last year.

This book is part of the A Year in Re-Reading: a 2014 Reading Challenge that I am participating in.

I found myself especially marvelling the character of Bishop Blackwood Ryan, or “Blackie” as he likes to be called, as I was reading the story. He’s very witty and his observations about people and situations are very sharp. He’s also well-learned–which he likes to remind every now and then, especially as he deals with professors and admin from “the University”–and can make plenty of references. But he’s also pretty down to earth and knows different people, both savoury and unsavoury, and he’s very open and kind. I found myself chuckling quite a bit because of what he says but he’s also deeply religious/spiritual and has a great way of explaining Catholic dogma and spirituality (which in a way informs the reader about the author, I believe, as Father Greeley was also very learned).

The mystery itself was also very interesting, combining a murder mystery with a conspiracy of sorts involving the Cold War, Russian Orthodoxy and the Vatican. It’s pretty complex, which some twists and turns as to what is really going on and who was behind the shooting of Brother Popov. I love how amidst Blackie’s interviews with the university staff, the admin and with students, he combines Church teaching and history with the discussions. It’s very informative but not in a heavy-handed manner complete with complex vocabulary and deep theology. It’s quite accessible.

And did I mention the dialogue cracks me up? For example, here’s a bit of dialogue between Blackie and some of the university staff:

“You were in your office, David Dolan?”

“Working late because I’m up for tenure review. Fantasizing occasionally about my bride to be.”


“A man in love is entitled to his fantasies, isn’t he, Bishop?”

“Without them the species would not survive.” – p. 37

Sometimes the dialogue just runs straight like the one above so you have to keep track of all of the characters but it’s not difficult.

Overall, The Bishop Goes to the University is a wonderful novel that combines mystery and suspense with great character interaction (I especially love Blackie’s scenes with Cardinal Cronin, the latter is my second favourite character :)), Catholicism and a bit of satire (particularly in reference to university institutions). I highly recommend it if you’re a Catholic or not, if you’re into mystery novels and if you’re a fan of mixing genres of intrigue together. It’s also quite informative 🙂

Now that I’ve re-aquainted myself with Bishop Blackie, I’m looking forward to reading The Archbishop in Andalusia!

Rating: ★★★★☆

Visit the author’s official website || Order this book from the Book Depository

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