Owen Keane (Terence Faherty)
Owen Keane

(creator: Terence Faherty)

Terence Faherty
Owen Keane when we first meet him in 1973, was a seminarian at St Aelred College and Seminary, “a small school tucked away in Huber, one of the southernmost counties of Indiana." Before this he had earned an undergraduate degree at Boston College. He was a devoted fan of paperback mysteries and fancied himself as a detective. He saw life itself "as a mystery whose meaning could be puzzled out, if only enough witnesses could be questioned, and enough clues collected." But he realised that he was “filled with half-baked ideas about life, the priesthood, my vocation, my dreams". He was a man with more questions than answers and and it comes as no surprise that he never completed his training for the priesthood.

Terence Faherty (1954 - ) was born in Trenton, New Jersey. His first books were computer manuals, but after 15 years of writing technical manuals, he went on to write short stories and two mystery series: the seven Owen Keane mysteries (reviewed below) and the Scott Elliott Mysteries, set in post-World War II Hollywood. He also lectures on the films of Basil Rathbone. His advice to would-be writers: “Don’t quit your day job,” He is married and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Lost Keats (1993)
The Lost Keats was the second book in the series to be published, but as it goes back to the time when Owen Keene was at college, I have chosen to discuss it first. It describes how, when Michael Crossley, a fellow seminarian, disappears, Owen sees it as a chance not only to unravel the mystery but perhaps to come to grips with his own inner struggles. When he meets a descendant of the English poet John Keats, scattered clues fall into place. At the centre of the puzzle is a missing sonnet (could it be by Keats?) but it is not long before marijuana and murder add to the mystery.

It gets off to a lively and entertaining beginning, helped along by racy short chapters. Around halfway through the pace slows down, but there is an exciting escape sequence towards the end. Owen proves to be an inquisitive and determined detective: "I think we'll have this straightened out in no time," he boasts - but soon goes on to discover that the mystery (and life?) is not so simple and has to admit, "I'd had the clues, but I hadn't worked them out". But he never gives up.

There are some amusing character sketches including that of an apparently crazy old lady in a home who soon has Owen running around doing errends for her. But she turns out to be not nearly as dotty as Owen had at first supposed. As she admits to him, "That game I played with you yesterday was just my way of taking my mind off things. A lot of the poor souls here play that game all the time, and they don't know they're doing it. I'm not one of that crowd. Not yet."

Another interesting character is Owen's spiritual director, Father Jerome, who tells him, "Every priest has a spiritual, ceremonial role to perform. But he also has a calling to victimhood. We sacrifice ourselves, dedicate our lives to our vocations, but it's more than that. We are called upon to identify with the victims of this world, because Christ was evicted. We are outside this world as celebrants and deeply immersed in it as victims .... It's a balance that is difficult to maintain. When I was a young man, priests commonly erred by leaning too heavily on the celebrant side of the equation. We produced many pious young men, possessed of great faith, but out of touch with the world. Out of touch with the people they served."
"Michael Crossley," I said.
“Yes. Michael was on his way to becoming just such a priest. A holy, pious man, but only half a priest.
That was the old tendency. Lately I've noticed that the pendulum has swung the other way. We're living in the great age of social conscience. Priests marching for civil rights or against the war. Priests who see social justice as the real goal of their work …. But the balance between the celebrant and victim must be maintained. A great social conscience cannot make up for a shaky faith, Owen. The celebrant must still inspire his people to strive for God. He can never merely be concerned with untangling their temporal difficulties. “
"You're speaking of me now," I said.
“I've been speaking of you and Michael. I have come to see you as opposite sides of this balance ...."

So this is rather more than just a detective story, and Owen's own doubts, not only about religion but about his relationships with other people, including "the girl I'd left behind", add to its interest. As his chief suspect tells him at the end of the book, "You're a leap-of-faith detective. The evidence that led you to me would have been too flimsy to support any of your paperback heroes. If you could reach out to God with the same intuition that led you to me, you'd be a happy man."

Deadstick (1991)
Deadstick is set in 1981 and tells how Owen Keane, now “an introspective, introverted, often idiosyncratic" law-firm researcher in New York, is paid to find out what had happened in a mystery plane crash that had happened 40 years before. But why would the extremely reclusive Robert Carteret, a millionaire in his 60s, want to reopen this 40-year-old scandal about the crash that had killed his brother and fiancee? Owen Keane is determined to find out what had really happened.

The story lacks the seminary background that gave The Lost Keats so much of its interest, although as the old friend who employs him tells him, "You will always be more confessor than detective. You're more interested in absolutions than solutions. You're so damn compulsive about forgiving sins, I can't believe you didn't make it as a priest." but, as Owen himself points out, “I solve little mysteries. I haven't had much luck with the big ones." All he can do is “Keep at it".

Owen does much of his research in the New York Public Library where research assistant Marilyn had become his friend and part-time lover. When he tells her that he had once been “if not a finder of facts, at least a searcher," she responds, “You really thought you could track down God? What, with a fingerprint kit and a magnifying glass?"
He explains to her that “I saw people back then as clues to a big mystery. As clues to God, to life, whatever. I thought that if I could just figure out the little mysteries, and collect enough of the little answers, I might solve the big mystery." But “I stopped finding the little answers. After a while, I stopped looking. I ended up in the library, writing down names and dates."
“Those names and dates are the answer," she said. “Those are facts. That's all there is. You can't know any more. You only make yourself crazy if you try to." But Owen is still not entirely convinced: "I was and always would be a failed priest."

There are some other quite interesting characters, such as the supposedly illiterate old storyteller, Jim Skiles, who lives by himself in the forest near the site of the plane crash and recognises, “You've got the look of a man who's lost somehow" before agreeing to show him the scene of the crash, before abandoning him in the woods. But Owen gets to solve the mystery even if the final explanation seemed remarkably unlikely and the plot, which gets quite tedious, is not one in which it is easy to feel really invoved.

Live to Regret (1992)
Live to Regret describes how Owen Keene (still the narrator throughout) is struggling to recover from the sudden death of Mary Ohlman, the wife of his friend Harry – and, years ago Owen's great love. He is hired by Harry's father to investigate Harry's strange behaviour (could he be taking drugs?) as he had taken himself away on an unexplained extended retreat in a small New Jersey seashore town. Unsure whether Harry is tormented by sorrow, alcohol, or guilt, Owen gets caught up not only in his friend's troubles, but also in those of a doubtful priest and an enigmatic young woman who, he is surprised to find, visits him in the middle of the night.
"What followed was enough like a dream to make me wonder if I had really awakened." She subsequently disappears.

This makes a lively and interesting story with some quite moving moments, as when Owen joins in Mary's funeral procession when “there was no comfort in the thought of Mary lying in that frozen ground, no beauty in the grey, windswept ceremony." But it is all helped along by the author's gentle sense of humour as when Owen tells us how in the past five years he had done a number of jobs "all the while carefully avoiding the prosperity that most of the country was enjoying". And when he gets a letter from Harry's father he describes how “I began to make deductions about the letter, in the classic detective style. Almost all my guesses were wrong, in the classic Keane style."

And I liked characters such as the landlord of the inn where Owen stayed who gives his visitors a complimentary glass of wine." I think you will like this one," he said. “This remark was part of a daily charade .... based on the idea that his free wine came from dusty bottles stored deep in the Gascony's basement. The wine actually flowed from large cardboard containers complete with plastic spigots that resided in the kitchen refrigerator."

When a priest enquires about the time that Owen had started studying for the priesthood, but then given it up, he asks, "Did you have doubts?"
"I had questions," is Owen's reply. "I'm still looking for answers to my questions."

It is this same priest who later tells him “You loved Mary. You gave her up because you thought you had a vocation. You failed at it. In the meantime, Mary married your friend. You've never been able to work any of it out, to let any of it go. There's your resentment of Harry Ohlman in a nutshell. You hated him for taking Mary away from you." It all seems to ring true. But Owen still wonders whether or not it was Harry who had killed her.

It is Pat O'Malia, Spring Lake's public safety director (“sort of a cross between police chief and dog catcher", as she puts it) who warns him off from interfering further. " You're the first one (amateur detective) I've ever come across in the here and now. You see them all the time on television. Some little old lady crime solver or, pardon me, some asinine gentleman sleuth, the kind of guy who looks like he routinely puts his underwear on backwards but is, in reality, Albert Einstein. They come in, blunder around, and solve the mystery. I hate that kind of fiction."
But, as Owen tells his readers, “I like it myself. It confirms my fondly held belief that we are all amateur detectives, trying to make sense of our own lives, wandering around looking for clues to the basic question: 'How the hell did I get here?' "

Die Dreaming (1994)
Die Dreaming starts back in 1978 when 28-year-old Owen (who had recklessly claimed to run a detective agency but really was just a clerk in a Boston liquor store) was attending his 10th high school reunion, where his ex-classmates make him the butt of a practical joke trying to involve him in a mock disappearance of one of the group. Determined to get his own back, Owen starts asking awkward questions about something apparently very dreadful that he learnt had happened 10 years before during a visit to Princeton campus.

But it is not until another reunion, ten years later in 1988, when one of the gang has been found dead (was it suicide or murder?), that Owen is able to unravel the tangle of lies that now threatens his own life too.

The story is, as usual, told in a way that holds the interest. There are realistic descriptions of places like the run-down paperboard factory where one of his ex-classmates is reduced to working. And Owen describes himself with nice self-depreciating humor, as when he says, “I'd used my standard interrogation technique .... saving my most important questions until it was too late to ask them."
Later on, another interviewee tells him, “You give the false impression that almost everything is going over your head."
“It's not entirely false," I said.

But the plot does not seem all that likely, and the final explanation is not really very convincing.

Prove the Nameless (1996)
Prove the Nameless describes how Owen Keane, who has now turned 40 and is working as a copy editor for an Atlantic City newspaper, is asked to investigate a 20 year old multiple homicide that claimed all but one member of a prominent local family. Owen's client, Barbara Lambert, is the sole survivor, a six-month-old baby at the time of the killings, who still feels that some faceless threat is still hanging over her.
As she tells Owen, the murders seemed to be “an act of the Nameless" by which she meant the absence of God - but she goes on to feel that “the Nameless is nearby somewhere, watching me".This gives Owen the sort of metaphysical challenge that he can't resist, although the ultimate conclusion is much more prosaic.

The story is written with the author's customary skill so that he manages to hold the interest even when little happens, although there is altogether too much talk about the past and some confusion about who is who. But although the basic plot lacks excitement, Owen himself still holds the reader's attention. As one of the reporters tells him, his editor "thinks a lot of you, but he doesn't have you figured out exactly. Sometimes he make you sound like a down-on-your-luck detective. Sometimes like a down-on-your-luck mystic." And that sums him up very well! It is this same reporter who tells him later on, “You're a searcher after the truth …. You wouldn't deny the truth to save yourself.
“It's hard to say, since I've never found it." is Owen's reply.

The Ordained (1997)
The Ordained sees ex-seminarian Owen Keene returning to Indiana to attend the parole hearing of Curtis Morrell, the killer he had once helped to convict. Here in the isolated town of Rapture (once populated by a religious sect that believed that the world would end in 1844 when the faithful, known as the Ordained of God
, would be delivered bodily into heaven), he is drawn into a weird mystery with last visions of a faith that seems to shadow his own. Three people disappear, including Morrell's doctor daughter, and it is up to him, as uncertain as ever, to unmask the drug-dealing truth.

It makes an arresting story, full of surprises, set against an interesting background, and holds the attention throughout. It gives Owen a chance to meet up again with his old mentor Brother Dennis (who, he was glad to say, didn't ask him “about my replacement vocation, the obsessive pursuit of mysteries“) and his old antagonist, the murderer Curtis Morrell who, while in prison, had tricked Brother Dennis into visiting him for years by pretending that he had been converted, As Dennis explains: "He had been stringing me along, playing me – and not just for the favours I did him. He played me for the sport of it, for the challenge. Now that I'd wised up, I didn't amuse him any more and I could go to hell. He said that the only thing sillier – no, he said more absurd – the only thing more absurd than the idea of worshipping a dead Jew nailed to a cross was the idea that an omnipotent God would send an old stumblebum like me around to speak to him. He was right about that much at least."

It is all written with a quiet understated humor as when an old coffin-maker, descendant of the Ordained, tells Owen, that the run-down little town of Rapture had been founded by a small group of Hoosier settlers who “broke away from the Shaker community and set out on their own. The Shakers believed in universal celibacy, as you may recall, and my ancestors and others – the group that broke away – could not hold with celibacy, luckily for me… They founded this town, Rapture, in 1841. They planned to spend the time remaining in study and prayer and – this is my own theory – in making up for the time they lost while they were celibate."

When Brother Dennis tells him, “You're greyer than I am. How did it happen? You can't be much past 40."
“I worry a lot," I said.
“About what .... What worries you?
“Well, for one thing I seem to have a lot of grey hair for a man my age."

There is no lack of dramatic action as when Owen gets involved in a plane crash and later on goes on to interview the frightening Morrell in prison when he is enigmatically told, “If I were you, I'd run. I go back to the silly life you have been living all these years. Because if you go to Rapture, your grave has already been dug. It's been waiting for you for 20 years."

Later on, Owen cannot help but ask himself, “Why does one person dread the end time while another longs for it? It was a restatement of what was for me the basic question, the one that came on sleepless nights and in broad daylight on empty streets. Maybe it's answer was hidden in Rapture, too." But the secret of the ordained, when he finds it, turns out to be that “they had no faith. After the Great Disappointment, nothing. No faith in the coming of God's kingdom. No faith in God. Only the empty husk of faith." But it's not the sort of answer that will ever satisfy Owen.

Orion Rising (2001)
Orion Rising tells how Owen Keane returns to Boston College, his alma mater, and to the scene of an old and unsolved crime. He is there because his lifetime friend, James Courtney Murray, has just been murdered. Beside his body lay the yellowed newspaper clipping of a 25 year old unresolved rape. DNA evidence reveals that Murray was guilty of that crime. But driven by his own knowledge of what happened that night in 1969, Owen is determined to find out why someone has gone to such great lengths to implicate an innocent man.

It gets off to a lively start, but the frequent flashbacks to college days become increasingly tedious (as, for example, when there is a long explanation of "deconstruction" theories) and it is often not all that obvious whether we're reading about the present or the past. Owen says he still regards his career as being “the compulsive pursuit of mysteries" and this one has its moments, as when he seems to be being shot at by a determined killer, but having so much of the story told in confusing flashbacks lessens the tension.

Owen gets the clue he needs to identify the rapist of so long ago when Professor Dr Phyllis Garrity explains to him that there is often a trigger incident that sets the rapist off: "an upsetting event involving an important woman in the rapist' s life. A female figure of authority. Or an object of sexual desire. In the ensuing attack, the victim is the accidental surrogate of this significant female figure, an innocent victim of the anger the rapist feels for another."

Owen's constellation is that of Orion the Hunter, and this may be how he still regards himself, but he no longer seems to be quite so concerned with searching for the inner meaning of things. A pity, as it was this that made him interesting.

The author used to have his own website but it seems (in February 2011) to have disappeared. There is a quite long and interesting (but incomplete) interview with him on the Conversations with American Writers site.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


The Lost Keats cover
The cover does not give much away.
Return to