Saturday, August 06, 2011

'Irish Tenure' Stands the Test of Time

McInerny, Ralph. Irish Tenure. Minotaur, 1999.

Ralph McInerny has been a favourite author of mine for many years. In addition to his rather substantial collection of mystery novels, he has also penned an inventive rewriting of Shakespeare's sonnets and is a renowned scholar in his own field, so I have a lot of respect for his ability to produce effective written work across a wide variety of disciplines. Despite my familiarity with and appreciation for his work, Irish Tenure quite exceeded my expectations.

Set (as is common with McInerny's mysteries) at Notre Dame University, Irish Tenure follows the death of young Amanda Pick, a young professor up for a competitive tenure position and on the verge of publishing an important and coveted discovery of a long-lost work by G. K. Chesterton. (The Chesterton story, alas, was invented just for this novel and has not yet been discovered). McInerny opens with her death, to increase suspense, and then flashes back to introduce a number of interesting (and potentially suspicious) individuals who, in the weeks before Amanda's death, might have wished her a little less present and successful. The suspects are numerous, the additional characters engaging, and the novel as a whole is elegantly crafted not just as a mere mystery, but as a collection of miniature character studies as well. I also appreciated the descriptions of the University Archives and Amanda's research in the Chesterton files, which made me long to visit the archives for myself.

As mysteries go, this is an excellent, clean, and engaging book, and well worth a read. More specifically, it should appeal to academics and those who recall their own studies with fondness, and to those who enjoy a bit of psychological thriller mixed in with the classic detective novel.

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