Greeley tries hand at 'ghost' writing

Sunday, September 1, 2002

Bishop Blackwood "Blackie" Ryan of Chicago is in Washington to investigate a mystery in the White House � but not a murder mystery.

In Andrew M. Greeley's "The Bishop in the West Wing," there's a poltergeist in the White House, making objects fly around. Ryan's task is to discover who's behind it and to stop it. And, he hopes, to get help for the perpetrator.

This isn't a bipartisan book � the Democrats are the good guys � but it is a reader-friendly one. The writing style isn't exactly simple, but it's as smooth as a water slide on a hot day, and the reader flies through the sentences.

It's an especially enjoyable tale for a mystery fan on a hot day when murder is just too heavy to deal with and a poltergeist's antics, which don't hurt anyone, can be just the thing. Readers aren't likely to identify the "who" in this whodunit before Greeley tells them.

The newly elected president is Jack McGurn, an Irish Catholic from Chicago. John F. Kennedy comes to mind, but Greeley hasn't made McGurn a Kennedy clone � although he has given him JFK's charm. McGurn displays even more humor than Kennedy and he's older, with three young adult children.

McGurn's wife died in a plane crash shortly before his campaign. This creates the other conundrum in the book: Will McGurn's grief prevent him from being able to love again?

Ryan is sent to the White House by Cardinal Sean Cronin of the Archdiocese of Chicago, where McGurn had worshipped.

Ryan's method is to decide, after researching files, which White House employees to scrutinize. He wanders around, trying to be inconspicuous, engaging people in conversation and hoping his instinct kicks in.

A couple of things are annoying. Ryan, trying to be noncommittal in conversation, says "arguably" and "patently" far too often. And Greeley borders on unreality by too frequently quoting newspaper stories with vicious, belittling references to the Irish-Catholic president.

But the book has fascinating insights into political campaigns plus a few international and national crises.