Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ash Wednesday-Ralph McInerny

Ash Wednesday
Ralph McInerny
St. Martin's, Jul 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 0312364563

On Ash Wednesday, just out of prison Nathaniel Green, who killed his wife ten years ago when he pulled the plug on the life support machine so she could go to heaven, asks the pastor of St. Hilary's if he will put ashes on his forehead though he is no longer a Catholic. He gave up on religion when his beloved Florence suffered from terminal cancer and kept alive by so called caring people when she just wanted to die.

Nathaniel and Florence belonged to St. Hilary before he committed euthanasia. Some people especially Florence’s sister do not want to turn the other cheek and let him return to the flock. They condemn him for murdering his spouse quoting the bible and the Ten Commandments. On the other hand Father Dowling understands why a human would act mercifully to end the suffering of a loved one although he feels deeply that it is still is a sin. As the parish divides over the issue of mercy killing, Dowling begins to see some incongruence in what he hears happened a decade ago; as he quietly investigates he begins to wonder if Nathaniel actually pulled the plug or is covering for someone.

This is a thought provoking Father Dowling mystery; perhaps the best in years as everyday people struggle with the difficult and complex issue of euthanasia as the St. Hilary congregation is divided over the subject and the killer. The story line is fast-paced once the whisper campaign begins that Green is out of prison and home and never slows down as he is shunned while he reads Crime and Punishment seeking absolution, but for what asks Father Dowling?

Harriet Klausner