1985 Ralph McInerny novel / FRI 3-14-14 / Rectangular paving stone / Gervasi who directed 2012's Hitchcock / Longtime airer of any Questions /
Friday, March 14, 2014
Constructor: Alan Olschwang
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
Word of the Day: "THE NOONDAY DEVIL" (3D: 1985 Ralph McInerny novel) —
The KGB has infiltrated the Catholic church hierarchy in America! That's the chancy premise of this thriller by the author of the Father Dowling mysteries and other Catholic-theme novels (Connolly's Life, The Priest). But, despite more than a few implausibilities, McInerny manages to avoid the heavy, shrill, or murky dangers inherent in such a notion--thanks to charmingly offbeat characters, a variety of issue-viewpoints, uncluttered plotting. . . and a hint of tongue-in-cheek. Cardinal Fergus of N.Y., leader of the US Church's right wing, has been assassinated in Rome by leftist terrorists. So the Church's left wing--led by Cardinal Carey of San Francisco, supported by ex-monk Matt Hanratty, religion editor at the N. Y. Times--quickly comes up with a two-part agenda: to grab some power away from the Pope by ""electing"" Fergus' successor at a meeting of US clergy; and to make sure that the post doesn't go to another right-winger. Meanwhile, however, Myrtle Tillman, devoted secretary to the murdered Cardinal, has taken his secret legacy--a dossier on the KGB's Church infilitration--to rightwing think-tanker Harold Packard, who hires quirky shamus Philip Knight to determine which of three bishops (all candidates for the N.Y. post) is a KGB mole. And then the novel takes its oddest, least credible twist: at their unprecedented election-meeting, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops winds up choosing an unknown Trappist monk, saintly Abbot Peregrine, as N.Y.'s new archbishop! Was Peregrine's election a KGB plot? Is he too a mole? How many KGB-ers, indeed, are lurking beneath robes and cassocks? Well, sleuth Knight (with help from his grossly fat mad-genius-brother) figures it all out--but not before the most ruthless of the KGB agents starts trying to kill just about everybody. . . including adorably feisty Myrtle. Shrewdly balanced between timely issues (e.g., liberation theology) and light Hitchcockian suspense, nicely warmed by flickers of middle-aged romance: a bright, neat tangle of Machiavellian clerics and cynical journalists--entertaining even if you don't go along with the undercurrent of serious KGB-alarm. (Kirkus review)
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Way off my wavelength. Way way. These things happen. Between RON, ELLIE, SACHA, and (esp.) "THE NOONDAY DEVIL," the proper names were just beyond my grasp today. I had a lot of trouble finding *any* information on "THE NOONDAY DEVIL." I've never even heard of the author, Ralph McInerny. Jay McInerney, I've heard of. "The Noonday DEMON," I've actually heard of—it's a bestselling book about depression from a few years back. But Devil? Ralph? One-e McInerny? No way. The 15s are pretty decent in this one, the shorter stuff (predictably) pretty awful. Super-choppy grid gets us lots of 3s and 4s. I'm always put off by a bad NW corner, and this one is pretty dire. GOTAB and its ilk (namely, I guess, GOTAC and GOTAD) are deeply unwelcome. Slightly less unwelcome than, say, GOTACAT, but not much less. And IIN … is IIN. Short stuff didn't get worse from there (how could it?), but it didn't improve. That said, I've seen worse. My main problem with this is that it appears to have been written / clued by someone who lives on a different planet from me and shares virtually none of the same experiences as me. Planet Olschwang. I simply don't live there. But someone probably does, so if he/she enjoyed this (more), fantastic.
Thought the [Longtime airer of "Any Questions?"] was PBSRADIO. That one help-hurt. There should be a word for that—helped me and hurt me simultaneously. Had no idea Mecca and Medina were oases. They are the birthplace and burial place of Muhammed, respectively … that is mostly all I know about them. Thought you needed a GUN or a SKI to be a biathlete, but AIM probably helps too. "WE'RE back!" If you say so. I know SETT now, but it still always makes me sad. Same with ROTOS. I know you are defensible "words," but please go away. Had PALMS for a second at 50D: Holders of many selflies. Seemed plausible. COMPLEX ANALYSIS is just a random phrase to me; had no idea it was a branch of mathematics. This is what I mean about being on a different planet. I just wasn't the ideal audience for this puzzle. So it's important to distinguish the grumpiness caused by objectively bad stuff (quality of the short fill) vs. that caused by an unfamiliar frame of reference and different taste. Sometimes I don't particularly like a puzzle and it's not entirely the puzzle's fault. This is one of those times.
I am, however, having fun trying to reclue GOTAB. [Cheer for one's favorite diet soft drink?] [Slogan for a single torso muscle?] Etc.