As our library didn’t have any of the next few books in Ralph McInerny’s series of Father Dowling mysteries, I decided to try reading one of his novels set at the University of Notre Dame. The Green Revolution sounded like it could be interesting, involving conflict over what role football should have in an institution of higher learning.
The very first chapter explores the depth of devotion Notre Dame students and alumni have for their school’s football program – something I can’t relate to at all, but I was interested in getting some insight into that mentality. After the first chapter, however, such devotion was simply taken for granted and used as background for the unfolding mystery.
A number of interesting characters are introduced, most of them members of the university faculty or administration. One reader review at amazon.com says that McInerny “is at his best indulging in light, elbow-ribbing satire of Notre Dame’s eccentric faculty. He is in a unique position to do so, having taught at the university for over fifty years, and he even manages to slip in some pointed commentary about the school’s increasing secularization.”
I found that all very interesting, but I was at the same time somewhat disappointed. I had professors in college that I greatly admired, and for a time aspired to become a college professor myself. I realize that those in the “ivory towers” of academia can become so wrapped up in their own scholarly pursuits that they lose a sense of what is truly important in life, but I would like to think that that is the exception rather than the rule.
I suppose that the one faculty member who is supposed to come across in a fairly positive light is Roger Knight, brother of Phil Knight – the pair who apparently solve the mysteries in this series. I apparently started with the next-to-last book in the series, however, and missed (as I initially did with the Father Dowling series) the initial character development. I guess I will have to go back and try to start at the beginning.
Working as I now do for a college, I was also interested to see role of university politics. I haven’t seen it for myself yet where I work, both because I haven’t been there very long and because I never seem to know much of what is going on behind the scenes. But one of my co-workers has told me a number of examples of wrong-headed (in her opinion, and I am inclined to agree, based on her accounts) decisions based on college politics. Most of those don’t, however, seem to be rooted in conflicts between faculty and administration, but simply in personal favoritism (or animosity) or shortsightedness – both of which are common in all organizations, academic or otherwise.
As for the mystery itself, the initial clues are too obvious not to be misdirection, so I wasn’t surprised when the solution lay elsewhere. But the information needed to solve it wasn’t provided until much later in the book, so there was little sense of “I should have seen that coming.” My impression seems to be that this is the typical pattern in McInerny’s books.
On the whole, it was a moderately entertaining book, if not wholly satisfying. I may try to find an earlier book in the series before returning to Father Dowling.