Father Dowling is a dedicated parish priest who happens to have a knack for unraveling the mysteries of the real world as well as those of heaven, but the latest puzzle to catch his attention---the disappearance of Wallace Flanagan---doesn't seem to be a mystery so much as a dirty little secret. By all appearances, Flanagan, the heir to a lucrative concrete business, skipped town with his mistress more than ten years ago, although no one talks about that out of respect for his abandoned wife. But appearances go right out the window when his mangled---and recently live---body is found wedged into one of his father's cement mixers.
If Flanagan's unexpected return and immediate death aren't enough to shake a few skeletons from their closets, childhood friends and lifelong enemies have started trickling home to Fox River, Illinouis, a town outside of Chicago. All of them had a stake in his disappearance, but which one would murder a man who was already all but dead? And would kill again to keep a dead man's secrets?
A collision between the past and present dislodges some hard and hidden truths that Father Dowling must uncover if he's going to catch a killer in Ralph McInerny's The Widow's Mate, an absorbing and suspenseful mystery that is sure to please Father Dowling's many fans.
About the Author
RALPH MCINERNY is the author of more than forty books, including the beloved Father Dowling mysteries and a popular mystery series set at the University of Notre Dame, where he has taught for more than fifty years. Recipient of the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award, he lives in South Bend, Indiana.
Ralph McInerny (1929-2010) is the author of more than fifty books, including the popular Father Dowling series, and taught for over fifty years at the University of Notre Dame, where he was the director of the Jacques Maritain Center. He has been awarded the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award and appointed to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He lived in South Bend, Indiana
Read an Excerpt
The Widow's Mate
By McInerny, Ralph
St. Martin's MinotaurCopyright © 2007 McInerny, Ralph
All right reserved.
Chapter One Amos Cadbury had come to the St. Hilary rectory to advise Father Dowling on a matter of parish business, overriding the protests of the pastor. “Amos, you must be the only lawyer in Fox River who makes house calls.” “Well, aren’t you grateful,” Marie Murkin fumed. Loyal as she was to Father Dowling, the housekeeper’s regard for the patrician lawyer was on a very high level indeed. “I am told the parish center is full of lovely widows,” Amos said with a smile. Marie was almost shocked. Amos had lost his wife ten years ago and, in a tasteful way, had been mourning her ever since. He always wore black; of course, most lawyers do, but Marie discerned continuing grief even in the lawyer’s lighter moments. She approved of this. Even if he were younger than he was, it was unthinkable to Marie that Amos might have married again. There is monogamy and monogamy, and his, she was sure, was unaffected by the loss of his wife. “Other than Marie?” Father Dowling asked. This was too much. Marie glared at the pastor, turned on her heel, and stomped off to her kitchen. Seated at her table, a cup of tea before her, she resisted the thought that maybe Father Dowling’s remark was not asfacetious as it seemed. Was it possible that Amos Cadbury’s frequent visits to the rectory were explained by . . . She shook the thought away as unworthy, but even so there was the beginning of a wistful little smile at the corners of her mouth.
Then another thought occurred. Had Amos been serious in suggesting that the parish center was gaining a reputation as a kind of singles club for the elderly? Needless to say, Marie did not consider herself to be in the same age group as the denizens of the center, even though some were in fact younger than herself. The great difference was that she was still active, carrying on as she always had, whereas the men and woman who came to the center to while away the day playing bridge and shuffleboard or just reminiscing seemed all too content to find themselves in the twilight years of their lives. However that might be, it was equally true that pairings took place among them, stormy little romances, jealousies, competitions, smiles and tears. Like the pastor, Marie had been more amused by than disapproving of this belated resurgence of the attraction between the sexes. Edna Hospers, who directed the center, had another view. “I found them necking in a classroom,” she had said to Marie recently of one ancient couple. “Necking?” “What did you call it in your day?” Thus was threatened what had begun as an uncharacteristically pleasant exchange with Edna. In her day? Marie rose from her chair, trying to conceal her wrath. What had promised to be a nice gossip about the old people had turned into Edna’s suggestion that Marie was one of them. Edna pretended not to notice the housekeeper’s reaction. “Ever since the Widow Flanagan started coming here, the center has been absolutely electric with intrigue.” Marie sat again. “Really?” “Half the other women shun her.
They call her the Queen Bee. But they’re all flirting like crazy now in competition with her.” This was more like it. Marie accepted a cup of coffee and adopted a receptive expression. “Do you know her, Marie?” “Melissa Flanagan? Oh, yes. It is an old parish family.” “Of course, she’s younger than the others.” “Surely not by much.” “How old would she be?” It was an opportunity not to be missed. “Not much younger than you.” There were those who complained of a loss of memory, but Marie was not among them. Father Dowling regarded her as a walking archive of parish history, and the fact was that she knew a lot more than was likely to end up in any archive. It almost surprised Marie herself how Melissa Flanagan’s tragic history was suddenly vivid in her mind, but now was not the time to distract Edna with that story. Edna laughed. “She could be my mother.” “She never had children.” “Part of it is that she is so much better off than the rest of them. I heard her telling our Lothario about a Caribbean cruise she had been on.” “Who is Lothario?” Edna turned first east, then west in her desk chair. “Gregory Packer. You must have met him.” Marie looked closely at Edna to see if the remark meant more than it said. “The tall fellow?” “With the wavy hair and the sparkling eyes. Contact lenses, I’m sure. Because of him and the Widow Flanagan, I am being turned into a chaperone.
A duenna.” Marie had let it go. Edna was always improving her mind and was given to odd words from time to time. Gregory Packer was a sore subject to Marie. When he had come by the rectory kitchen a month ago to pay his respects, she made tea and offered him a slice of lemon meringue pie over his protests. “You must have made that for the pastor.” “Of course I did. And all he would take is a sliver.” Marie had put nearly a quarter of the pie on the dish she set before her guest. “Is this your idea of a sliver?” “Eat.” “You don’t remember me, do you?” Marie smiled. Gregory had been an altar boy in the days before Roger Dowling was named pastor of St. Hilary’s. That was when the Franciscans had charge of the parish, a melancholy memory for Marie, who had never really gotten along with the friars. In those days, altar boys had been dressed like little Franciscans, perhaps in the hope that they would consider a vocation. No one would have thought of Gregory as a future friar. He had been the terror of the parish school, forever on the carpet before the principal, but his misbehavior had somehow endeared him to those who had to scold him. Marie herself had once come to his rescue when one of the friars caught him drinking altar wine in the sacristy after Mass. Rather than empty the wine cruet into the sink, Gregory had tossed off the ounce remaining. The friar’s outburst had brought Marie to the sacristy.
Once the situation was clear to her, she took Gregory by the ear and marched him outside. Halfway to the house, she stopped and faced the culprit. What a good-looking lad he was. The twinkle in his eye suggested that he knew she had rescued him. “It tasted awful,” he said. “Well, now you know.” She had taken him on to the rectory kitchen and given him a glass of milk to wash away the taste of the wine. “You live right here?” he asked. “I have an apartment in the back of the house. And my own staircase.” It was not always clear to Marie that the parishioners understood that her quarters were sequestered from those of the priests. “Are you some kind of nun?” Marie was startled. “Do I look like a nun?” He smiled. “No, you look like Ingrid Bergman.” How could she not like a boy like that? If Marie had had children, she would have had a son like Gregory, she was sure. No one’s idea of a goody-goody, the sort of boy the friars favored, but a real boy. Of course, Marie looked nothing like Ingrid Bergman. Well, maybe a little . . . Now, all these years later, Gregory had returned and was again seated at her kitchen table devouring the huge slice of lemon meringue pie she had put before him. “So what brings you back to St. Hilary’s?” “I wanted to see you, for one thing.” Marie beamed. Surely she was justified in thinking that her long tenure as housekeeper had made her virtual pastor of the parish. Not that Marie was sympathetic with all this nonsense about ordaining women, but a housekeeper of the kind she was inevitably found herself engaged in a sort of pastoral activity.
It was her practice to screen visitors, take them off to her kitchen, and find out why they had come. She told herself she was just trying to ease the burden on Father Dowling—not that he always appreciated her attempts to counsel visitors, but Marie knew she was helpful and did not repine when the pastor teased her about her efforts. Gregory’s remark seemed confirmation of the influence she had. “How long will you be in town?” “Oh, I’m back for good.” He grinned. “Well, anyway I’m back. Things have certainly changed around here. What’s going on at the school?” Marie explained to him that Father Dowling had turned the school into a parish center. “There weren’t enough families with young children to keep up the school.” No need to mention all the nuns who had gone over the wall. “I saw a lot of people in the playground.” “Seniors,” Marie explained. “Maybe I’ll look into it.” Marie laughed. “You’re much too young for that.” “I’m in my fifties.” Marie let it go. No need to get into ages. The truth was that Gregory induced thoughts of a “September Song” romance. “Do you still think I look like Ingrid Bergman?” “I hope not. She’s dead.” “You’re not wearing a ring.” “Oh, I’m single.” The way he said it suggested there was a story there. Marie settled into her counseling mood. “Tell me about it.” “Not on the first date.” Honestly. Thank heavens Father Dowling couldn’t hear her giggling. Gregory finished his pie and pushed back from the table. “I shouldn’t be taking up your time.” “You caught me in a free moment.” He stood. Marie resisted the impulse to tell him to sit down again. He had called this a first date—a joke, of course, but it suggested she would be seeing more of him. She found that she did not want to take him into the study and introduce him to Father Dowling. First she wanted to find out where he had been and what he had been doing since he left the parish.
She remembered that he had enlisted in the navy. It seemed another bond, not that memories of the sailor Marie had married were happy ones. Gregory had not returned. Then she had spotted him on the playground, at the center of a flock of cackling hens. Honestly. He noticed her and waved, but that was all. Marie felt jilted. Then Edna told her of the swath Gregory was cutting through the women at the parish center. Lothario indeed. “I’m surprised you let someone that young hang around here, Edna.” “He must be the same age as the Widow Flanagan. They seem to have known one another.” Again Marie resisted the urge to tell Edna the story of Melissa Flanagan. Of course Melissa would have known Gregory. Now that she thought of it, the two of them must have been in the same class in the parish school. When she did leave Edna, Marie went through the old gym that had been turned into a common room. At various tables, bridge games went on, some serious, some merely the occasion for companionship. Gregory was at a table with Melissa, just the two of them, and no cards in evidence. Melissa was smiling into Gregory’s face as he spoke to her. It hurt a bit to see what a nice couple they made. Perhaps something would come of their reunion. With a resigned sigh, Marie pushed through the door and outside. The air was warm; there was a lovely scent of lilacs; birds twittered about. No wonder there was all that billing and cooing among the elderly. Edna might be impatient with it, but Marie walked back to the rectory in a wistful mood. Her reverie was disturbed when Father Dowling appeared in the kitchen doorway. “Do you think you could scare up a little lunch for Amos and me? He’s staying for the noon Mass.” Amos, too, came into the kitchen. “I offered to take him out to lunch, Marie. I hate to impose on you.” She shooed them off to the church and got to work. Scare up lunch indeed. She would show Father Dowling. Amos Cadbury, thank God, did not have the appetite of a bird, so feeding him was a challenge. Copyright © 2007 by Ralph McInerny. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from The Widow's Mate by McInerny, Ralph Copyright © 2007 by McInerny, Ralph. Excerpted by permission.
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