Mom and Dead

MOM AND DEAD, the fourth of Ralph McInerny’s mystery novels featuring lawyer Andrew Broom, resembles the other three in the complexity of its plot and in the presence of a strong element of local color. Andrew Broom begins to suspect that there is something wrong with a mysterious attempt to buy up parcels of waterfront property in his town of Wyler, Indiana, especially when a human skull is found on the land in question. That the would-be buyer is hidden behind Broom’s longtime rival Frank McGough adds to his suspicion.

Other issues and events also claim Broom’s attention: There is a lot of drug-peddling going on locally; a couple he knows is involved in Native American causes that could affect the land sale; a politician is trying to ban bingo; some of the locals are involved in very obvious casual adultery. When a murder takes place, it is hard to determine its cause out of the many possibilities. Broom’s solution draws the apparently disparate strands of the narrative into a clever knot.

The novel is rich in details of place, and the characters are well-drawn, often comically satisfying denizens of an Indiana town. Although the plot is beguilingly complicated, the solution is simple and clear enough, and the pattern that Broom finds in the events is believable. Fans of McInerny’s earlier mystery hero Father Dowling may miss the moral complexity and depth that went with the priest, but for those who enjoy Murder Lite, this novel will make excellent summer reading.