Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 301
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.
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.∗
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