William X(avier) Kienzle Andrew M. Greeley - Essay

Andrew M. Greeley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

William Kienzle is the Harry Kemelman of Catholicism, and his priest detective, Robert Koesler (like Kienzle, sometimes editor of the Michigan Catholic), is the Detroit response to Rabbi Small….

Like Kemelman, Kienzle has an eye and an ear for mystery stories. Kienzle's sensitivity to pathos and foolishness, shallow fads and rigid ideologies, mindless nonsense and deep faith of the contemporary Catholic scene compares favorably with Kemelman's vivid description of suburban Jewish life.

Both men are superb sociologists of ethnicity.

"Assault With Intent" is about six attempted murders in a declining Roman Catholic seminary—and one real murder—which may be connected to an ultra-right Catholic religious group opposed to change in the church.

Like Kienzle's previous works, the story is a puzzle rather than a mystery. The reader is not provided either with the clues or background information necessary to solve the crimes. Rather, he is entertained by an elegant puzzle and by the detective's ability to unwrap the puzzle. If a mystery buff demands intriguing mind benders, he will find them in Father Koesler stories. If he wants a chance to solve the crime, he will be disappointed.

"Assault With Intent" is in some respects an improvement over Kienzle's previous books, where characters were dispatched with great dispassion and little sense of horror. Moreover, the frequent and also dispassionate couplings of his love interests (two Detroit reporters) are less frequent, though the aging lovers are now quite irrelevant to the story.

On the negative side, Kienzle is at least as good a sociologist and puzzle constructor as Kemelman, but not as deft a storyteller. His characters still tend to be without the warmth or attractiveness of Rabbi Small's congregants, And, there is too much dialogue, not enough suspense-building narration.

"Assault With Intent," then, will appeal to the very substantial audience that likes literary equivalents to crossword puzzles. It will not appeal to the audience that demands more in a mystery story.

If anything, the Catholic atmosphere in "Assault With Intent" is better than in previous books, though, for whatever one reviewer's opinion is worth, the puzzles may be wearing a little thin around the edges.

Andrew M. Greeley, "Murder Mystery in Catholic Seminary," in Los Angeles Times Book Review (copyright, 1982, Los Angeles Times; reprinted by permission), May 23, 1982, p. 18.