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Triple Pursuit

Triple Pursuit

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by Ralph McInerny

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In the latest installment of Ralph McInerny's beloved series, Father Dowling is caught in the middle of a dispute between former radio celebrity Jack Gallagher and Austin Rooney over one woman's affections.

Meanwhile, Jack is the prime suspect in the death of another woman, Agatha Rossner, a lawyer better known as a seductress than a litigator. The Fox River


In the latest installment of Ralph McInerny's beloved series, Father Dowling is caught in the middle of a dispute between former radio celebrity Jack Gallagher and Austin Rooney over one woman's affections.

Meanwhile, Jack is the prime suspect in the death of another woman, Agatha Rossner, a lawyer better known as a seductress than a litigator. The Fox River police once again must turn to Father Dowling for help in sorting out this intricate tale of murderous affairs.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In McInerny's 20th Father Dowling mystery in 24 years, the pensive, perceptive priest figures out a not very difficult case involving three seemingly separate murders that affect his St. Hilary's Catholic Church parish in Fox River, Ill. The usual cast of characters includes Dowling's nosy housekeeper, Marie Murkin; his longtime friend, police captain Phil Keegan; tenacious police detectives Cy Horvath and Agnes Lamb; and lethargic cop Peanuts Pianone. A young woman recently moved to town falls or is thrown into traffic and dies. Two more are strangled to death: bright, flirtatious young lawyer Aggie Rossner and motel housekeeper Ruby Otter. The investigation is confused by a fight at the St. Hilary's Senior Citizen Center between two elderly widowed brothers-in-law, Jack Gallagher and Austin Rooney, over an attractive widow. Jack was having an affair with Aggie and confesses to her murder, trying to protect his married son who was also involved with her. In addition, Jack's daughter and her lawyer fianc interfere, causing mild complications. The Dowling books are comfortable leisurely and repetitive with familiar situations and issues. McInerney's strengths are his dry wit and realistic depiction of the elderly, as well as his all too human characters such as down-at-the-heels lawyer Tuttle; his temporary secretary, the frighteningly efficient Hazel Barnes; and the senior center busybody, Desmond O'Toole. (Apr. 23) Forecast: A predictable entry in a generally lackluster series should still please the older audience who are Dowling's principal fans, but it will take a miracle for this novel to increase McInerney's reader base. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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St. Martin's Press
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Father Dowling Mysteries , #20
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Triple Pursuit

A Father Dowling Mystery

By Ralph McInerny

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2001 Ralph McInerny
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7780-7



The reaction to the young woman's death was pronounced at the St. Hilary Senior Center. Apparently being jostled about in a crowd was one of the recurrent fears of the elderly. They were aware of talk about the burden old people represented and of the increasingly positive chatter about euthanasia.

"What have you learned?" Father Dowling asked his old friend Phil Keegan, who had stopped by the rectory just in time for the evening meal.

"Well, her name is Linda Hopkins." Phil took the cigar from his mouth and scowled at it. "Roger, the coroner's report is no help in determining whether or not it was an accident."

"Aren't there witnesses?"

There were witnesses, but their testimony conflicted and not all of them would be willing to swear to what they thought they had seen. Perhaps no investigation would have even begun if the local paper had not seized upon the event. Soon accounts of the young woman began to appear, interviews with the women with whom she had worked on the cleaning crew at the Hacienda Motel.

She was from a small town in Wisconsin, a hundred miles north on the Fox River, and had come to Chicago to escape the limitations of life in her native Appleseed. She had done this against the express wishes of her parents, and her father took his daughter's death as confirmation of the wisdom of his prohibition. It was when Anton Hopkins refused to accept responsibility for his daughter's burial that Cy Horvath asked Father Dowling to accompany him on a visit to the parents.

Appleseed, Wisconsin, might have been Fox River, Illinois. Apparently Linda had been somewhat overwhelmed by Chicago itself, and migrated west to Fox River where, in a replica of the town she had fled, she took a job she never would have taken at home. On the drive north through falling snow, Cy told Father Dowling what he had learned from interviews with members of the cleaning crew at the Hacienda Motel.

"I think they wondered what she was doing on that crew. Not that they didn't like her. From Ruby Otter, the head of the crew, on down, they have nothing but good to say of her."

"Do they think it was an accident?"

"They think it was murder."

"Do they have a murderer?"

"A guy she was going with."

"Have you talked with him?"

"We can't find him."

"Maybe they're right."

The body of Linda Hopkins was taken to the local morgue while Father Dowling and Cy went immediately to the Hopkins home, a frame house whose driveway was cleared of snow. A face appeared at a window when Cy drove in and, when Father Dowling got out of the car, a man emerged from the house and stood looking at the priest who came toward him.

"I'm Father Dowling from Fox River, Illinois." He extended his hand and, after a moment's hesitation, Anton Hopkins took it. His eyes now went to Cy. "This is Lieutenant Horvath."

He asked them in, still reluctant, and they found Mildred Hopkins seated at the kitchen table, eyes red from weeping and wide with confused grief. "Did you bring her?"


"Thank God."

It seemed the resolution of an argument the bereaved parents had been having, but Anton too seemed relieved that the decision had been taken from his hands.

"She should have stayed home," he said, but there was little conviction in his voice. Perhaps he thought he had lost Linda the day she boarded the bus for Chicago, defying his wishes, going off on what he had been certain would be a fateful trip. Whatever consolation he had derived from knowing that the worst had happened deserted him now. He sank into a chair across from his wife. She in turn rose to welcome these unexpected visitors. Soon they were all seated at the table, coffee before them, and Cy was telling them what he knew of the death of Linda. Father Dowling was grateful Cy neglected to say that witnesses of their daughter's death thought she had been pushed into traffic on Dirksen Boulevard. However it had happened, their daughter was gone and this official notification had the finality they must have longed for. Rumor had become fact and their grief was unalloyed. Father Dowling noticed the parish calendar on the wall and suggested that they call their pastor.

Mildred looked at Anton who said nothing. She nodded to Father Dowling.

Father Kommers was in his seventies and his gruff unsentimental familiarity calmed the desolate parents. He called the funeral director who had provided the parish calendar and arrangements were made to transfer the body from the morgue. While Cy talked to Mildred about her daughter, Anton withdrew to the living room with the two priests.

Half an hour later, Father Dowling walked down the driveway with Kommers.

"You in the Chicago archdiocese?"

"That's right."

"So she didn't end up in Chicago after all."

"We're to the west of the city."

"Young people don't stay here now if they can get away."

"What kind of girl was Linda?"

Father Kommers thought about it. "A good girl, as far as I know. It's a good family." He rubbed his chin with the heel of his hand. "They lost a son in Desert Storm."

"Any other children?"

He shook his head. "Was she in your parish?"

"Not registered. Apparently she went to Mass there." He was relying on Marie Murkin's word for this.

"Good. Good. Did you tell the parents?"



Had that been their fear, that she would go off to the big city and shuffle off all they had tried to give her? Cy was pensive on the drive back, but then he always seemed pensive. The visit to the Hopkinses might have induced thoughts of the futility of life, the sadness of parenthood. At least Anton Hopkins had stopped thinking that his daughter had followed the path of the Prodigal Son. Up to a point. Linda would never walk up that shoveled driveway again.

"Is there any hope of finding the boyfriend, Cy?"

"We'll find him."


Colleen Gallagher's Aunt Ruth had taught her a little prayer when Colleen was a girl, long before there was any reason to think that she would still be single at the unsettling age of thirty-two. She had added the prayer to her little repertoire of devotions, orisons murmured hurriedly as she dressed in the morning, but it scarcely engaged her mind until she reached thirty. It was just a little jingle like "Now I lay me down to sleep," to the tune of which she drifted off into maidenly dreams. Eventually something like desperation crept into her saying of Aunt Ruth's prayer. Good Saint Anne, get me a man as quick as you can. On Sundays, after communion, she knelt with hands clenched in prayer, eyes tightly closed, and sent up her petition to Saint Anne. She wasn't quite clear who Saint Anne was, but Aunt Ruth had told her the prayer was surefire.

What a joke the petition had seemed all those years ago, with the future stretching ahead in all its green promise. Colleen had no one she cared to ask to the senior dance when she graduated from Holy Angels Academy, but neither did Jane, who was the most beautiful girl in the class. It was a source of amazement to Colleen that she and Jane were such good friends. The reason, it turned out, was her brother Tim, who was a student at Georgetown and not at hand to be asked to take Jane to the dance. But Jane's fastidious patience had paid off; she too went off to Georgetown and it was there, rather than in Fox River, they fell in love. Colleen was a bridesmaid at the wedding and at the reception, her full lips moist with champagne, Jane said, "I owe it all to Saint Anne."

Colleen had told her about Aunt Ruth's advice and Jane had wanted to know the prayer.

"I said it every day until it worked," Jane confided, all radiant on her wedding day.

After that, Colleen repeated the prayer so often she would sometimes find herself murmuring it without realizing what she was doing. But her petition went unanswered and she felt almost betrayed by her patron. It seemed unfair that she had told Jane the prayer with much girlish giggling and now Jane was a wife and mother while Colleen rose each day to hurry downtown to the offices of Mallard and Bill where she worked hard as a paralegal as if to drive away the thought that she was doomed to do this into spinsterly old age. And then Mario Liberati joined the firm.

He seemed to be all those wonderful Italian singers rolled into one, with dark wavy hair, olive complexion, romantic eyes, and a smile which lit up the office.

"You're a marvel, do you know that?" he said to Colleen about her legal research.

"It's my job."

"You make mine easier to do."

Mario's forte was the courtroom. In Britain the barrister is distinguished from the lawyer, and Mario would have been a barrister there; increasingly he was the preferred man to argue a case in court. Judges were as susceptible to his persuasion as were juries and he won cases Mallard and Bill had been prepared to lose.

"I think you're the one who's considered the marvel here."

Their first lunches together were in his office, food sent for so they could continue working, but after one signal triumph he had asked her to dinner. They would go directly from the office, but she noticed he too had come to work dressed for the evening ahead. Colleen had taken a lot of kidding about her ankle-length skirt and spangly blouse but she laughed it off and all day long murmured her prayer to Saint Anne like a mantra. When they left together, Aggie, a spanking new lawyer, watched them go with envious desolation. But the dinner was a battle, not the war, and Colleen knew that the bright and breathtakingly endowed Aggie was her most dangerous rival with Mario.

Colleen had been prepared to lie about her age, assuming Mario was younger than she. She found it difficult to tell how old he was, since he had reached a peak of manly perfection that would no doubt endure until retirement. He could have been any age. It turned out he was older than she, thirty-five. This surprised her because at the time he had been with Mallard and Bill for only three years.

"I was a late bloomer," he said, displaying his perfect teeth. After college, he had spent several years in a broker's office before entering law school at Northwestern.

"You would have been wasted in anything but the law."

"Some people expected me to go into criminal law."

"Oh, no." It was much more fitting that he should represent the victims of others' negligence or malice and bring them to justice.

After that, at the office Aggie brought out the heavy artillery. Her skirts became shorter; she had a way of crossing her legs that seemed designed to expose her thighs, a trick doubtless learned from watching women on television. She was shamelessly predatory. Aggie had thick brown hair, a perfect nose, and lips that in repose might have been those of Michelangelo's David. Colleen too stepped up her campaign. Thus it was that she stopped by St. Hilary's rectory and asked to see a priest.

"You mean Father Dowling," the housekeeper said. "There's only one.

"My parents were in this parish. Is Father Dowling a Franciscan?"

Mrs. Murkin scowled. "Certainly not. What is your business?"

"I want to have a Mass said for a special intention."

This softened Mrs. Murkin and she forgave the allusion to Franciscans. Friars had the parish before Father Dowling came, and for Marie Murkin the change had been one from cheery incompetence to the serenity of a well-run parish. Of course Marie took some credit for that, her genius as a rectory housekeeper having been unleashed by the going of the Franciscans.

"What was your parents' name?" Marie asked when Colleen gave her name.

"Gallagher is my family name."

Marie Murkin stepped back in surprise. "I assumed that was your married name."

"I'm not married."

"I don't believe it."

Colleen smiled, feeling at ease with the housekeeper. "Now you know my special intention."

"You couldn't have a more powerful advocate than Father Dowling."

"And Saint Anne?"

"Saint Anne, of course."


Marie took the young woman to Father Dowling in his study and did not stay to eavesdrop, having learned the purpose of the visit beforehand. Gallagher, Gallagher ... Marie prided herself on her prodigious memory for parochial affairs. After all, she had served here longer than any pastor, but she hoped Father Dowling would never be reassigned. And there was little danger of that.

When Marie first heard the story of Father Dowling's fall from grace as a prestigious member of the archdiocesan marriage tribunal, she could not believe it. Of course she had noticed the pastor never drank, and that was odd in a priest, not that they weren't usually abstemious. She would give even the friars that. But it seemed almost a religious duty to take a stand against the puritanism that had eventually driven the country into a hedonist culture and given religion a bad name. A sip in time saves nine, was Marie Murkin's philosophy. In her apartment, reached by the back stairway, she kept a bottle of sherry, making it do for a month. She liked to take her ease before the television of an evening, with a wee glass on the table beside her and her knitting in her lap. As often as not, she nodded off in her chair before finishing the sherry and then grumpily got ready for bed. She felt she was striking a blow for decency and civilization when she turned off the television.

"What was that all about?" she asked Father Dowling when his visitor had gone.

"She wanted a Mass said."

"Did she tell you what for?"

"A special intention."

Marie looked knowing. "A very special intention."

"Don't tell me you wormed it out of her?"

"It is the kind of thing one woman tells another."

"That sounds like an advertising slogan."

"She is understandably anxious to marry."

"Anyone in particular?"

"That is not a question one woman would ask another."

Marie swept grandly from the room. She did not often leave the study with the sense that she'd had the last word, but such was the case on this occasion. It irked her all the more that she could not remember the Gallagher family. She decided to go over to the parish school and see if the photographs of graduating classes would jog her memory. On the way along the path from the rectory to the school, she tried to guess what class it would have been, moving backward from Colleen Gallagher. The girl couldn't be thirty, and if her father had graduated at thirteen ...

Coming toward her along the path was a couple, two of the seniors who frequented the parish Senior Center into which the school had been turned when the decline of young families in the parish made a school less and less feasible. If St. Hilary's had been an inner-city parish, the doors of the school could have been opened to any child who cared to come, offering an alternative to the jungle the public schools had become. But there were not enough children, Catholic or non-Catholic, in the part of Fox River where St. Hilary's was located. The couple consisted of pretty little Maud Gorman and a man who must be yet another in the string of beaux Maud attracted despite the fact that she was seventy-five if she was a day. How an old woman could have preserved a kind of girlish beauty, and coquetry as well, into her eighth decade was one of those mysteries that eluded Marie. Maud was a mother and grandmother, had led an exemplary life, and still did as a widow, except for the flirting that more than once had sown dissension in the ranks of the old men who came to the Center. Maud had a way of reminding them of better days and they responded as much from memory as from passion.

"Running around like chickens with their heads cut off," Marie had humphed to Edna Hospers, who directed the Center. "They're on their last legs and don't know it."

"It's harmless," Edna said.

"There are still sins of thought in old age."

There was a perilous moment when Marie feared that Edna would defer to her greater authority on that question. But it passed.

"Their minds are weaker than their bodies." Immediately Edna regretted the remark. She always took the seniors' part against Marie's criticisms. "It gives them something to do."

"That's what you said when you talked Father into buying that pool table."

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Murkin," Maud said now in her lilting little-girl voice. "Isn't it a beautiful day?"

Maud sounded as if she herself had brought about this lovely November day. The leaves were turning gloriously, and there was the slightest nip in the air despite the sun.

"There is nothing like an Illinois autumn," Marie pronounced.

"I think it is even more beautiful in Wisconsin. I was raised in Ellsworth." Maud said this more to her companion than to Marie. The man seemed to resent Marie's interruption. "You know Austin, I suppose," Maud said. "You know everyone."

"Austin Rooney," the man said, abruptly putting out his hand.

"From this parish?"


Excerpted from Triple Pursuit by Ralph McInerny. Copyright © 2001 Ralph McInerny. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ralph McInerny is the author of over thirty books, including the popular mystery series set at the University of Notre Dame, where he has taught for over forty years and is the director of the Jacques Maritain Center. He has been awarded the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award and lives in South Bend, Indiana.

Ralph McInerny (1929-2010) is the author of more than fifty books, including the popular Father Dowling series, and taught for over fifty years at the University of Notre Dame, where he was the director of the Jacques Maritain Center. He has been awarded the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award and appointed to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He lived in South Bend, Indiana

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