This will probably be the last Blackie Ryan novel unless there is an outline somewhere someone else gets hired to turn into a book. If Father Greeley has not recovered enough from his head injury to have even communicated a short message to his fans 16 months after his accident then there is no chance he will recover enough to write another book. A family member did post that he is continuing with his therapy and appreciates the well wishes on the anniversary date but there was no direct quote from him leading me to believe that he is still severely aphasic.
As Blackie's swan song it's a mixed bag.
It was published in November 2008, the same month that Greeley was injured on the 7th and there are signs that it may have not been meant to be the final polished version. The spot where two versions of the same paragraph appear one right after the other could just be a case of everybody screwing up but there are other places where it feels as if material should have been trimmed but wasn't and the mystery of the book is never really developed beyond the outline stage. It just does not match up with his other published works in terms of plot development and character moments. It also lacks the longish author's note that I have come to look forward to. It may be that he was finally slipping as an author, or that everyone has an off book now and then, but either way this is not one of his better efforts.
It does however give us a nice ending to the series by settling some long running sub-plots, one from his very first successful novel The Cardinal Sins. It makes me wonder if, given his age, he hasn't had some of this stuff written out for years to be slotted in when needed if something happened to him and he hadn't gotten to it before.
It is a quick read with some good Blackie scenes and if you are a fan you have to read it. Everyone else shouldn't be starting with this one anyway.
The plot is simple. Cardinal Cronin is in ill health and asks Blackie to sub for him at a conference in Spain. Sean really is sick but he probably would have tricked Blackie into going anyway because it turns out that the Cardinal's friend Cardinal Diego Sanchez y Romanos, Archbishop of Seville, is worried that a murder may be about to occur and Sean has told him that Blackie can help prevent it.
The beautiful Dona Teresa, Duchess of Seville, is a wealthy widow who is fighting to recover control of her life from her scheming relatives who tricked her husband into an agreement that they would be her guardians after his death. She is close to wining a law suit to overturn the will that will allow her to throw them out of the ancestral palace and marry the man she loves without their interference. Something that one of them might kill to prevent.
While Blackie is dealing with this he is faced with Cronin taking a turn for the worse and having to coordinate things at home from a distance. If he leaves immediately Dona Teresa may be killed but if he doesn't Sean may refuse to listen to the people around him and get the care he needs before it is too late.
There is another book of his Irish series with Nuala that came out after this one and I'm curious now to compare the two to see if it also shows signs of not really having been completely polished.