McInerny has done it yet again with another fine Father Dowling novel that has more to do with the mysteries of an embodied but fallible faith than with mere detective story. Ash Wednesday superficially begins with the observance if its namesake. However, Agatha Christi observed, the crime (normally murder) is really the end of the story. The detective simply unwinds the tangle. The mystery is in the past. So too here. The story opens with one Nathaniel Greene receiving the imposition of ashes and later confessing to Father Dowling that he is not Catholic. There is much more to things than all that. As we quickly learn, Nathaniel and his wife were communicants of St. Hilary’s long before Father Dowling was its rector. Nathaniel’s long absence is due to a long stay at the Joliet prison for the murder of his wife.
Since this bit of information is given from the beginning, any mystery reader who is still among the living would immediately suspect the veracity of Nathaniel’s conviction and would be rightly disappointed if this were all there was to solve. McInerny does not disappoint. As is typical with Father Dowling Mysteries, one begins to wonder when an actual murder will take place and what, if anything everything that has come before has to do with the murder when it does finally come to pass. Also included are McInerny’s Fox River regulars who take a decidedly prominent role in this novel. In fact, Father Dowling at one point confides that he has not kept up with events. The reader who hotly agrees with Dowling here is being over-hasty and will eventually have to repent. Only at the very end, do we discover that it is Father Dowling that ties together far more than the rest of us were even looking for.