Cover image for Grave undertakings
Grave undertakings
McInerny, Ralph, 1929-2010.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000.
Physical Description:
374 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"A Father Dowling mystery."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



Father Roger Dowling's latest investigation revolves around the small town of Fox River, Illinois. A local mobster, Vincent O'Toole, has just died and is buried in the local cemetery. While questions still surround the cause of the gangster's death, someone has been attempting to dig up his grave. And when the town's police finally disinter the coffin, they find it empty. Who and why would anyone wish to steal the mobster's corpse? And how does this relate to the mysterious death itself? Father Dowling begins to realize that the answers involve a manuscript by an Italian poet, and a love triangle between two very different young men and the woman they both covet.Full of ingenious twists and turns, and the warm, humorous wisdom that fans of McInerny's Father Dowling mysteries have come to love, GRAVE UNDERTAKINGS is a delightfully clever puzzle.

Author Notes

Ralph McInerny was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on February 24, 1929. He served in the Marine Corps in the late 1940s. He received a bachelor's degree from St. Paul Seminary in 1951, a master's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1952 and a doctorate in philosophy from Laval University in Quebec in 1954. He was a member of the University of Notre Dame faculty from 1955 until 2009. He gained international renown as a scholar, author and lecturer who specialized in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. During his academic career, he was the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies and director of the Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame. He is founder and publisher of Catholic Dossier magazine and co-founder of Crisis magazine.

His philosophical works include Aquinas on Human Action, The Question of Christian Ethics, and Aquinas and Analogy. His novels include the Father Dowling Mystery series, an Andrew Broom Mystery series, and the Sister Mary Teresa Mystery series. He also wrote under the pseudonyms of Harry Austin, Matthew FitzRalph, Ernan Mackey, Edward Mackin, and Monica Quill. He died on January 29, 2010 at the age of 80.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is McInerny's nineteenth Father Dowling novel, and the series seems to be showing its age. The plot involves the murder of a low-level gangster, the subsequent desecration of his grave, and the disappearance of his earthly remains, along with a valuable manuscript that was buried with him. More murders result as various players hunt for the manuscript, which belongs to the local Mob boss. Unfortunately, this summary makes the novel sound more interesting than it really is. McInerny repeats himself constantly, and he's placed the action within a time line that doesn't make sense. His characters are underdeveloped or cliched, with one tantalizing exception--the treacherous private investigator who masterminds the plot by playing each side against the other. In effect, this reads like a first draft rather than a finished novel. Recommended only for those collections requiring a full run of the Dowling series. --George Needham

Publisher's Weekly Review

Mimi O'Toole is hoping for a miracle when she asks Father Dowling in the hospital for absolution for her dying husband, a shooting victim. Vincent O'Toole was known to be an associate of the Pianone crime family, and his funeral draws every notable in the local underworld to St. Hilary's church in Fox River, Ill. The cops don't seem all that anxious to find O'Toole's killer, until someone tries to dig up his grave on Halloween and his casket is later discovered to be empty. In his effort to figure out what happened to O'Toole both before and after death, Father Dowling remains the calm center in a swirl of events involving gangster Salvatore Pianone, his daughter Angela and nephew Giorgio, the grieving widow and her cult-member son, as well as a couple of private investigators and even friends on the police force. Dowling finds that Sal Pianone is a very different man in private, a collector of rare books and manuscripts (one of which has disappeared), who is perhaps too close to his daughter but not close enough to Giorgio. Shifting from one character's point-of-view to another, McInery (Seed of Doubt, The Tears of Things) keeps the reader on edge as his intrepid sleuth-priest solves the crimes in question and bit by bit gets to the bottom of the bitter rivalries simmering below the slickly tailored surface of this 19th installment of a deservedly popular series. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-While on hospital rounds to visit parishioners, Father Dowling is summoned to the bedside of a local mobster, Vince O'Toole, to administer the last rites. He agrees even though he recognizes the dying man. Shortly thereafter, the cemetery workers can't seem to keep people from trying to dig him up. O'Toole's death triggers a number of strange events in Fox River, IL: the fianc‚ of the local mob head's daughter disappears, a local private eye is forced into taking on a business associate, a strange suit is found hanging in a church closet, Vince's son is killed, and no one can decide where it would be best for O'Toole to rest in peace. It is up to Father Dowling to piece the puzzle together. McInerny has created a good story with a case that is hard to solve. The pace is relaxed, but the intrigue never falters. A fascinating choice for mystery fans.-Linda A. Vretos, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Heidegger had been sexton at Riverside Cemetery for twenty-three years after serving an apprenticeship of ten years on the grounds crew. He had taken the job because at the time there wasn't anything better. He had never intended to stay, but one day led to another, season blended into season, and he found that he liked outdoor work, even if it was in a cemetery. The fact is, it was hard work only when graves had to be dug or the leaves raked in the fall. Leaves were the bane of cemetery work.     If he could just sit there in his office and watch the trees turn into half a dozen glorious colors it would have been different. In the next office, Annie Ambrose snuffled and hummed, supposedly working on the computer but usually playing solitaire. The sight of leaves drifting down among the markers could stir the soul of any man. But they had to be picked up and carted off to the wilderness area at the west end of the cemetery. Long ago they had burned them and autumnal smoke rose in great sweet-smelling billows toward the sky, making the thin product from the crematorium chimney seem like nothing. At any other season of the year, the smoke from the chimney still got to Heidegger. Burying bodies was best, that was his deep belief. Burning them seemed disdainful, no matter all the good arguments in favor of it. Besides, it stirred up images of hell.     His office, thanks to the addition to the original building, gave him an untrammeled view of his domain. The sexton's office was located a hundred yards beyond the gatehouse. A law student now lived in the gatehouse apartment that was meant for the sexton, but his wife, Dorothy, had refused to move into it. Heidegger was separated from the business office where Annie Ambrose kept the books. Annie talked to herself much of the time, but since she was deaf she might be unaware of it. When people came to ask about plots and burial, he placed their chairs so they could see how serene it was at Riverside. Their beloved would be able to rest in peace under those trees and the gently undulating terrain. Fall was a boom season for burial lots, as if the dying of the year turned people's thoughts to their final resting place. Heidegger used an attractive brochure to supplement the view from the north window.     "They sell themselves," he assured Dorothy.     "I don't want to hear about it."     It was the cross he had to bear. His wife was ashamed of the work he did, put off by it, would never let him talk to her about the satisfactions of being the sexton at Riverside Cemetery. For all that, she was a good woman. He had not told her that two lots awaited them in the area just to the west of the new mausoleum.     Mausoleums were not as bad as cremation, but Heidegger did not in his heart of hearts approve of them either. It was like filing away the remains, as if you might want to come back for them some day. Not that there weren't reburials from time to time....     Outside, the whine of the leaf blowers grew louder and soon the two men operating them came into view. They would not know what an improvement this was over raking. Memories of weeks spent raking between and around the gravestones could call up the constant back pain he had suffered in those days. Heidegger stepped to the window and waved his arms for five minutes before he got the crew's attention. He pointed significantly to his watch. Leaf-blowing was almost addictive. Imagine having to remind men that lunchtime had come.     Lolly and Maxwell, covered with dust from the leaves, ate lunch sitting in the open door of the maintenance shed, looking out at the scene of their labors. Heidegger sat on the tractor to which the suction machine was already attached. That represented phase two. First, blow the leaves into piles close to the roads. Second, suck them up and take them out to the wild area where they would be left to rot. Half would be taken away by truck farmers looking for mulch, bagging it up out there and hauling the leaves away.     "Hallowe'en," Heidegger said.     Lolly nodded and Maxwell said, "Geez."     "Can I count on you both?"     Their shrugs were meant as assent. Hallowe'en called for special precautions, to guard against vandalism.     "Out back is where they're likely to come in."     Out back was the wilderness, but beyond was a housing development filled with teenagers. The cemetery would be irresistible after they had tired of tricks or treats.     He thought of asking Withers, the law student who for the past week had been living in the gatehouse apartment, to keep vigil with them, but decided against it. Withers was preoccupied; he spent all his time studying and never left the apartment. On Hallowe'en, accordingly, Lolly and Maxwell took up stations out back, where kids were most likely to sneak in. Heidegger took up his vigil in his office. He was dead tired. Dorothy was angry because she was home alone and would have to answer the door all by herself, bribing kids with candy. Throughout the day they had been busy sucking up piles of leaves and trucking them out to the wilderness. Lolly was lying on one of those stacks now, doing sentinel duty.     "Stay awake," Heidegger told him.     But it was Heidegger who fell asleep, tipped back in his chair in his office. He was wakened by the sound of his own snoring and for a wild moment did not know where he was. That was when he looked out and noticed the lights.     He rubbed his eyes to make sure, but there was no doubt of it. Someone was out there doing God knows what. Loily and Maxwell must have fallen asleep too.     Heidegger slammed the door when he left the office and advanced through the night, shouting toward the lights that flickered through the trees. He knew the cemetery like the back of his hand, but even so he had to be careful not to run into a memorial stone or trip over a marker.     "Hey!" he shouted, waving his flashlight. "Hey, you!"     The lights went out. Heidegger stopped. Had he scared them off?. He waited with his flashlight off and had the sense that someone else was waiting a hundred yards away. But the lights did not go on again. Then there was the sound of a motor starting, a powerful motor. To his right came the sound of Lolly and Maxwell approaching, drawn by his shouting. The sound of the motor grew fainter and then, as the vehicle neared the cemetery entrance, headlights went on.     Heidegger moved on then, followed by his men. They came to a halt when they reached the place where the intruders had been. They found a desecrated grave. The large Celtic cross had been tipped over. Signs of digging suggested a macabre purpose.     "Geez."     "Who's buried there?"     Heidegger turned his light on the toppled stone.     "Vincent O'Toole."