Ralph McInerny brought to the mystery genre a theological and philosophical base, and his books look at events from an orthodox point of view. He scrutinizes the social and moral problems of the contemporary church; studies the relationships between a priest and his parishioners, a nun and her sisterhood, and a lawyer and his client; and examines crimes that grow out of a loss or failure of faith or a lapse into one or more of the seven deadly sins. His priest, Father Dowling, must wrestle with issues surrounding the sanctity of the confessional, the loyalties of the church hierarchy, and the confusions wrought by changes in the church itself; his nun, Sister Mary Teresa, must face the realities of a failing order, the confusions of lonely women trapped in a changing world, and the extremes of fanatics; his lawyer, Andrew Broom, in turn must confront the puzzles of life and death and seek meaning through action. McInerny is particularly interested in causal chains in which violence begets violence and a single act unleashes a series of interlocked events.
For his fiction, McInerny received the Mystery Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 and the Crisis magazine P. G. Wodehouse Award in 1995.