|Bishop Francis X Regan
(creator: William F Love)
|Bishop Francis X(avier) Regan (full title: The Most Reverend Francis X Regan, DD, STD, Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York) is a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair, following the severing of his spinal cord "by a slug from a mugger's thirty-eight" six years before the first story. He is fiercely independent, does not like being called "handicapped", and anyone heard "praising the Bishop's 'courage' gives him a pain in the you-know-where." His Special Assistant, the sharp Jewish (and atheist) ex-cop and now part-time private investigator, Davey Goldman, admires his formidable brain-power ("Rumor has it his I.Q. has tested out at 220"), but admits that Bishop is "in a foul mood about eighty per cent of the time", particularly when he is having one of his periodic depressions.
The Bishop has a "mop of snow-white hair", a "wide, high brow with ... lines of pain' and a "firm jaw", and wears reading glasses. He starts each day at 5.0am with half an hour of exercises on a set of pulleys and bars by his bed "As a result, the guy's upper body is as useful as his lower is useless". As for his faith, Davey explains, "I did ask him once how he reconciled his devotion to God with his sometimes lousy disposition. He smiled his little smile, and said, 'Just consider, David, what I'd be like, if I didn't spend those five hours with the Lord, every day!' "
He is "Archdiocesan Director of Personnel" but "was currently building a stack of unanswered mail high enough to smother him if he sneezed". But he spent most of each morning in the chapel, then spent the afternoons either trying to complete his latest work (The Suffering of the Godly: David, Jeremiah, Micah and Paul) or, if he was having a depression, reading.
Meanwhile Davey does all his legwork for him, as well as being his driver, typist, and general fixer. "I have excellent job security," he explains, as "no-one else will put up with him". The Bishop may not be "the best listener in the world, if by good listening you mean empathy. The man's about as empathetic as a lobster. But when he gets it in gear, he can assimilate, collate, and juggle facts with superhuman speed. He can also turn a mishmash into a coherent, logical whole."
The two of them make a good team, even if they are more than a little reminiscent of Rex Stout's sedentary detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin. It is Dave Goldman, like Archie Goodwin, who is the storyteller throughout.
William F Love (1932- ) grew up in Oklahoma, became a Benedictine monk at St Gregory's Abbey there, and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1958. Following his resignation from the priesthood in 1969, he married, and became a banker at the First National Bank of Chicago. From 1984-1988 he worked as a private consultant, before becoming a full-time novelist, but he only appears to have published four books. He and his wife, with their two daughters, lived in Hinsdale, Illinois.
The Chartreuse Clue (1990)
Innocent, but desperate to keep his true identity secret, Fuller turns to his friend, the wheelchair-bound Bishop Francis X Regan, for help. The Bishop, concerned about a potential scandal involving the church, decides to try to solve the murder, while shielding Father Fuller from the police. He soon involves his Special Assistant, the Jewish ex-cop and now part-time private investiigator Davey Goldman - and it is he who tells the story. As they probe into the dead woman's background, he and the Bishop find thermselves in a race with the police to try to find ther murderer before the police can locate and identify Father Fuller.
The Bishop is something of "a frustrated cop. You could see it in his face", and he certainly seems to enjoy listening to Davey's detailed accounts of what he has been doing, and suggesting what he should do next. And it is he who eventually identifies the murderer, and works out a scheme to entrap him/her. In the process even he gets involved in a fight, and it all builds up to an effective climax.
There are some nice humorous comments, as when Davey remarks, "I felt like the guy who found out his mother-in-law drove his new Mercedes off the cliff: mixed emotions", but some of his investigations seem rather prolonged, although the two main characters are lively enough.
The Fundamentals of Murder (subsequent title: The Ruby Red Clue)(1991)
The story gets off to an interesting start and there are some good comic passages, as when Davey manages to get himself mistaken for an attorney and attends a highly confidential meeting between two people, all the while having to pretend that he is the attorney of the other one. It makes an entertaining and even quite exciting situation. But some of Davey's long interviews with people about the past are less interesting. But the author has a habit of dropping in hints like "I'd picked up the obvious one (clue) but didn't consider its implications, with unfortunate results later on for me personally" that keep us on our toes.
Davey comes up with amusing asides as when he explains, "Sometimes I'm almost as quick on the uptake as I think I should be" or when he goes on "to lend immoral support". And it all ends with the Bishop about to go into one of his regular depressions because "he was miffed that I'd solved the case without him. That I'd never have got to first base without him, much less second or third, didn't count." He explains that he felt guilty as he had put Davey in real danger, but Davey is not one to hold that against him. But, as Inspector Kessler tells him, "It'd sure be nice if you were ever to get me involved in one of your cases before the murderer had tried to kill you or Davey."
Bloody Ten (1992)
At first it makes an interesting story with a lot of things happening in the present rather than too many long interviews about what has happened in the past. There are some nice descriptions, such as: "Walking into Paddy's Pub was like coming home. There can't be more than four hundred bars in New York just like it. Dark, the way drinkers want it. And filled with the fine aroma of recycled beer and yesterday's nicotine".
The Bishop's relationship with the narrator Davey still holds the interest. As Davey explains, "He's always more interested in my cases than in his own work .... Seven years ago, when I first started working for him, I'd never have dreamed of bringing him a detective problem. How he ever got involved - well, that's a story in itself. It all started with him showing some interest. From there, it worked up to his making 'suggestions'. Somehow, over the years, those 'suggestions' have turned into commands, don't ask me how. By the time I got into the McClain case last year, he'd worked up to senior partner." The Bishop who "loves to pretend to be miffed at missing sleep, but loves bizarre happenings" is now even prepared to set out on awkward journeys to see what is happening for himself.And there is one particularly effective scene where he really does put an officious Deputy Sherrif in his place.
But the end of the book gets increasingly protracted and complicated. It is acceptable to have one confrontration of the Bishop with all the suspects asembled together, although, as Davey points out, "This was beginning to look like an attempt to replay our final confrontation with the murderer in the McClain case (the one a friend of mine calls The Case of the Chartreuse Clue, a description that's a bit too melodramatic for my taste)." But in this book there is also a second confrontation and it all begins to get a bit tedious, especially as the surprise ending - when it eventually comes - is far from convincing.
Bishop's Revenge (1993)
There is some dramatic action in the story, as when Davey fights off a violent bully, and when he pulls his usual trick of letting people imagine he is someone other than he is: "I've never pretended to be anyone I'm not. People sometimes think I'm someone else, but that's their problem." But that's not quite how the police see it.
There are some good comic moments too as when Davey tries to interview two quarrelling old sisters. One of them had picked Eddie Goode out at a police line-up: " 'So he's going to prison. I guess you know that, though'
The basic plot, though, is not strong enough to hold the interest throughout, and the way the Bishop's eventually gets Inspector Kessler to assemble the six suspects in his room lacks conviction. "I'll give it a shot," Kessler said. "Though I don't know what you're trying to accomplish."
|Above: this was the first book of four.
Below: paperback edition of the 3rd book. By now the publishers had dropped the initial F from the author's name.