William X(avier) Kienzle Winslow Dix - Essay

Winslow Dix

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Rosary Murders, a first novel by William X. Kienzle, is an old-fashioned thriller that doesn't unclench its grip on the reader until the final pages. A psychotic killer, loose in Detroit, brutally murders the most accessible people in the world: Catholic nuns and priests. His calling card: a black rosary wrapped around each victim's wrist.

Kienzle's meticulous description of each murder is chillingly graphic. The prose suddenly halts, and the slow-motion camera assumes control, as in the final scene of "Bonnie and Clyde" when the anti-heroes are gunned to smithereens….

Full of clichés, it is, nonetheless, compelling reading. When not lavishly depicting the slaughter of individual innocents, Kienzle vividly dramatizes American clerical life: the stale jokes, boredom, and over-indulgence in food, drink, and tobacco. The very names of the characters—Archbishop Mark Boyle, Monsignor O'Brien, Mother Mary Honora—nostalgically evoke a chapter in American Catholicism.

Father Robert Koesler, Kienzle's amateur sleuth, pores over mysteries "like some priests read the Bible." His wit, honed by years of Agatha Christie, solves a puzzle that is worthy of his mentor at her most deceptive. Lieutenant Koznicki, Polish Catholic and exemplary family man, is the perceptive, relentless professional detective.

The Rosary Murders has its flaws—the plot meanders far too frequently into the sexual escapades of newspaper reporter Joe Cox; the priests and nuns are mere types; and the final three pages, after the mystery has been solved, should have been excised. But the book does not commit the unpardonable sin: boredom. All its sins are venial, quickly forgiven every time the rosary-murderer ritualistically drapes another string of beads around a victim's wrist.

Winslow Dix, "From Massacre in Maine to Murder in Miami: Investigating a Lethal Fictional Foursome," in The Chronicle Review (copyright © 1979 by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inc.), May 29, 1979, p. R-15.∗