A local coffee house also sells used books, and on its shelves was The Bishop and the Missing L Train: A Blackie Ryan Story, by the late Father Andrew M. Greeley. The notion of someone stealing an L train appealed to this ferroequinologist, and for three bucks, why not offer up Book Review No. 13?
The train part of the story is tangential, as one might expect of a work by a Catholic public intellectual writing very much in the Social Gospel tradition. Auxiliary Bishop John Blackwood Ryan is the Archdiocese of Chicago's consulting detective, and the story begins with the disappearance of another, recently appointed auxiliary bishop. Although there are notionally only four levels of management in the church, namely parish priest, bishop, archbishop, and Pope, there are gradations of management in that not all archbishops are cardinals, and between priest and bishop there are monsignors and auxiliary bishops, the deanlets and deanlings of the apostolic and catholic church. And plenty of opportunity to disagree on the mission of that church.
The auxiliary bishop in question has been seconded to Chicago from the Vatican, in a move that might have been ill-advised so soon after the death of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, and amidst the strains inherent in a largish archdiocese with substantial diversity among the congregants and within the church bureaucracy. Thus the story, hey, if we're going to have a mystery based on a train, why not, becomes one in which Bishop Blackie sorts through the motives of the various people, laity and ordained alike, who would like to be rid of this troublesome new prelate. And the struggles of these people give Father Greeley a chance to reflect on church doctrine, providing, for instance, the most intuitive explanation of "sacrament" I have ever encountered. Plus a bit of whimsey, for instance four high schoolers all named Megan who, in best Bells of St. Mary fashion, serve as volunteers at Holy Name, and a gathering of Notre Damers including a lady soccer player conversant with Finnegans Wake. Plus a foreign exchange trader who calls his priest before hitting on said soccer player, and a reference to a renegade nun called Joel (latterly, Joe) Read who may or may not be receiving a brush-back pitch from the baseball-fan priest.
So who is the miscreant? I won't tell you, but I left a massive hint in the title, dear reader.
The trains? Father Greeley confesses he made that part up. Truly, truly, I say unto thee, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than it is for an unauthorized movement to go from Kimball on the Ravenswood to the Des Plaines Avenue tail track on the Lake. But he's conversant enough with the history of the L to observe that the Ravenswood was at one time projected further north; in fact there was a 1912 proposal to bring the Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railroad onto the Ravenswood extension at Kenilworth, thence along the left bank of the North Shore Drainage Canal into the Kimball terminal. The mind boggles at the thought of Electroliners coming this way. But even before the Edens Expressway, the Chicago Rapid Transit had given up on the service between Howard Street and Niles Center. He's more on point, though, anticipating the upscaling of the Ravenswood, although it still traffics as the Brown Line, not the Gold Line.
The troubled lovers work through it, too. And it's 285 pages, not exactly Dostoevskian proportions (or Joycean syntax.)
(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)