Mystery and crime novels are not the genre I usually prefer. When I came across a copy of Ralph McInerny’s Irish Tenure at the Mishawaka public library’s used book sale a few months ago, the cover caught my eye. It reads, “A Mystery Set at the University of Notre Dame.” I decided to give it a chance, and even though I’m not usually a mystery reader, this book kept me entertained.
Irish Tenure is the third book in McInerny’s Notre Dame series, although each can be read independently. McInerny may be best known for his Father Dowling mysteries (made into a TV movie in 1987 and a TV series from 1989-1991), but the sleuths in the Notre Dame series are the portly professor Roger Knight and his physically fit private detective brother, Philip.
The mystery at hand concerns the death of Amanda Pick, a young philosophy professor who was up for tenure. The suspects include her rival for tenure, Hans “Hot Dog” Wiener; a rare books dealer, Noah Beispiel, on campus to negotiate the bequest of an alumnus’ personal papers; Amanda’s fellow professor and housemate, Laura; Laura’s estranged husband Tony; and Sean Pottery, ND’s resident G.K. Chesterton scholar, who was hopeless in love with Amanda despite the great difference in their ages.
Complicating matters is the disappearance of a rare manuscript. It seems that early in the 20th century, when G.K. Chesterton took up temporary residence as a visiting scholar at ND, a student compelled the great author to contribute a unique short story to the Observer (the student newspaper). It was never published, however, and made its way into the student’s personal papers after his death. The rare manuscript was of great value to Chesterton scholars – and to Beispiel.
The tone of this mystery is not particularly dark. Suspense builds gradually up to the ending, and the reader always has the sense that justice will prevail. Throughout, McInerny displays a subtle sense of humor (especially through dialogue), a Catholic sensibility, a great love of learning and a deep affection for all things Notre Dame. Those acquainted with Notre Dame will easily recognize the campus and South Bend locations described in the novel.
Irish Tenure was first published in 1999. McInerny went on to write a total of thirteen Notre Dame mysteries, beginning with On This Rockne in 1997 and concluding with Sham Rock in 2010.
McInerny was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1929. He moved to South Bend when he was hired as a philosophy professor at Notre Dame. He retired from Notre Dame in June 2009 and passed away on January 29, 2010.