230. Blackie Ryan

Blackie Ryan began as a priest and worked his way up the ladder to Arch-bishop while solving crime. Unlikely? What does that have to do with whether a series if fun to read?

Every time I sit back and think about Father Andrew Greeley books, I am amazed that I like them. They are so lame in so many ways, but every time I open one up and begin reading, I am immediately hooked. I wish I knew how he does that.

Father Blackie Ryan is aware of Father Brown. In Blackie Ryan’s “real” world, Father Brown is a fictional character. It’s charming to hear an imaginary person, living in an imaginary world, refer to another imaginary person, living in a different imaginary world, as if the former were real and the latter were fictional. 

I have to admit to a fascination with Catholicism. I grew up as a Southern Baptist, where I was taught that the Devil twisted the word of God in the early days after Christ’s resurrection, and spawned the Catholic Church. When I became an unbeliever, that became moot, but I think there is still a subconscious fascination with the forbidden driving my feelings.

Certainly, if I were to go shopping for a religion, I would look for something like Greeley’s All Dogs Go to Heaven version of Catholicism. I would steer clear of Chesterton’s harsher version. In Father Ryan’s world, everything will come out well in the cosmic long run, even if half the characters in any given novel end up dead. In Father Brown’s world, evil comes oozing under the door like black smoke.

It must be nice to know that everything will come out right in the end, no matter how many bad things happen along the way. For the reader, it makes the Blackie Ryan novels the literary equivalent of comfort food. I suspect that accounts for a good deal of their popularity.

Sex probably accounts for another share of their popularity. It seems odd that a series by a priest and about a priest has more sex in it than a secular thriller. I don’t intend to engage in long distance psychoanalysis, but the driving force of priestly frustration can’t be completely discounted. If all you can do about sex is think about it, you might as well write novels.

Probably the most irritating quirk in Greeley’s style is his overuse of foreshadowing. It seems sometimes that everything that is going to happen get’s a preemptive comment. If I had only known . . ., If she had only told me . . ., I should have realized . . .. These are key, repeated phrases in Greeley’s way of telling his stories. They match up with the way Ryan solves crimes through intuition. His subconscious sees the answer, and his conscious mind gets glimpses of it which fade frustratingly away. Eventually, all becomes clear, the elevator door stays open (that is Greeley’s conceit, not mine) and the crime is solved. Just in time. Or just too late, depending on how Greeley chooses to  spin it.

All this makes it sound as if I don’t like Greeley’s writing, but then why am I talking about him? Hmmm. I”ll have to think about that while I’m reading Rites of Spring for the tenth time.

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