William X(avier) Kienzle Katha Pollitt - Essay

Katha Pollitt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Remember Father Brown? G. K. Chesterton's Edwardian Catholic priest-detective solved the most ingenious murders effortlessly, thanks to a childlike simplicity and an unshakable trust in the doctrines of the Church—which often had an uncanny bearing on his cases. The years have not been kind to Catholic certainties, and that may be why Father Koesler of Detroit needs almost 300 pages [in Mind Over Murder] to solve a crime that Father Brown would have wrapped up in 20. Unlike Father Brown, poor Koesler has to contend with loneliness, doubt, Church bureaucracy, declining attendance at Mass and his fellow priests. His resultant air of detachment and faint depression slow him down a bit as a detective—even I solved this mystery before he did—but it makes him believable, and far more likeable than our other contemporary ecclesiastical sleuth, Harry Kemelman's egocentric and complacent Rabbi Small….

Kienzle is no stylist—he favors the sort of tough-guy writing in which drinks are "built," not mixed—but he is an ex-priest, and his satirical vignettes of the religious life ring dismally true. Squabbling around the rectory dining table, trading dirty jokes, goofing off on the golf course, Koesler's colleagues are, with few exceptions, about as spiritual as traveling salesmen, and a lot less grown-up.

Katha Pollitt, "Books in Brief: 'Mind over Murder'" (copyright © 1981 by the Foundation for National Progress; reprinted by permission of the author), in Mother Jones, Vol VI, No. VII, August, 1981, p. 65.