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Irish intrigue in the Windy City

Psychic sleuth Nuala Anne McGrail unravels a mystery set in Chicago in this latest novel from Father Andrew Greeley. Here’s an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

Father Andrew Greeley is a Catholic priest, sociologist and best-selling novelist. For the past 12 years, he has written a series of mysteries involving the crime-solving Irish psychic Nuala Anne McGrail and her Irish American husband, Dermot Michael Coyne. The eighth book in the series, "Irish Cream," has just been published. Greeley was invited on the “Today” show to discuss the book. Here’s an excerpt:

“Before you hire me, Mr. Coyne, I must tell you one thing about myself. I am a convicted felon. I killed a man.”

A moment before, Day O'Sullivan had seemed a bright, alert young man, eager for the job we had offered him. Suddenly he became a condemned criminal, awaiting a sentence. His angelic face twisted in a grimace of guilt and a haze of pain slipped over his pale blue eyes.

Harm had been done to him, me wife had said.

“Tell us about it, Day.”

“Involuntary manslaughter,” he said softly. “I'm afraid I don't know much about it. Five years ago, I got drunk one night at the club, took my father's car, and in the dark I rolled over one of his oldest friends, Mr. Keefe. It was terrible. I usually don't drink and now, of course, I don't drink at all. I have no memory of what happened. My father worked out a plea bargain with the state's attorney. He said he thought a time in jail would be good for me but he didn't want any more disgrace to the family than I had already caused. So I'm on probation for five years, only six more months left. My father tells me that I won't be able to stay out of trouble that long, but it's been more than four years already.”

Nuala had put on our mystery-solving face. This meant that there was a puzzle which we had to solve. There were never any options. I forced myself to look away from the outline of her breasts beneath her light blue knit top.

“We won't hold it against you, Day,” I said, knowing that's what Nuala wanted me to say and what I wanted to say too. Damian O'Sullivan, or Day as everyone called him, was our dog boy. Nuala had hired him, subject to my approval, one day in early April at the dog park. I was afraid that she had added just one more responsibility to her responsibility-laden life.

“He's coming over to meet you tonight, Dermot,” she had assured me. “I know you'll like the poor kid.”

She does the hiring and the firing in our family. My consent to her decisions is always presumed. Normally she doesn't even bother to explain them to me. To bring him over so I could perhaps veto the hiring was unheard of.

Damian Thomas O'Sullivan certainly seemed harmless, an innocent who was loved by dogs and children. Indeed, I had hardly opened the door to let him in the house and he had scarcely the time to say, “I'm Day O'Sullivan, Mr. Coyne,” before the two snow-white Irish wolfhounds were all over him, yelping with joy.

They are barred from our parlor because they tend to scare the living daylights out of guests who have not met them. Under proper circumstances, Nuala dispenses from that regulation. This time they hadn't waited.

They hugged Day, kissed him, wrestled with him, and threatened to knock him to the floor.

“Girls!” Nuala warned sternly.

Reluctantly, Fiona and Maeve sat on the floor, hemming Day in so that he couldn't move.

“You are not even supposed to be in here.”

They lifted their very large bodies off the floor and, tails drooping, withdrew to the rear of the house. They were immediately replaced by four children, our three and Katiesue Murphy, all of whom hugged him.

Thin, just a little above medium height, clean-shaven, with closely cut blond hair, kind if somewhat aimless pale blue eyes, a sweet smile, and a seraphic face, Damian Thomas O'Sullivan seemed like a harmless Peter Pan, a perpetual youth who had thought about growing up and had decided against it. He wore faded jeans and an old millennium tee shirt under a thin beige windbreaker.

“All right, kids, back to the playroom. You too, Nelliecoyne.”

“Ma!”

“You heard me!"

“Bye, Day,” Socra Marie waved at him.

We have three children: Mary Margaret, usually called, but not by her teachers, “Nelliecoyne;” Micheal Dermod, ma-Hall DEAR-mud, aka “the Mick;” and Socra Marie, aged respectively six, four, and two.

Socra is an old Irish-language name of undetermined meaning. It is pronounced Sorra and if you don't get that first syllable right in our house, you are corrected.

Day was not so much Peter Pan, I decided, but the pied piper of Lincoln Park West.

“I didn't mean to create a scene like that,” he apologized, a faint flush on his face.

“We have an exuberant family,” I admitted. “Those dogs are perhaps the calmest of the lot.”

“As I told Mrs. Coyne, they are wonderful characters, so affectionate, so intelligent, and so well trained.”

“Mrs. Coyne is me mother-in-law. I'm Nuala Anne.”

“You'll find, Day,” I said, putting on my paterfamilias face, “that you and I are the only totally sane persons in the ménage. You're welcome as long as you can put up with us.”

Me wife smiled approvingly. For a man, and one often more dense even than most men, I had managed to say the right thing. She produced a pitcher of iced tea and poured us all a glass.

“Damian O'Sullivan?” I had said dubiously before he had arrived at our door on Southport Avenue. “To take care of the dogs?”

“They're dear sweet things,” she had replied, “but they take up a lot of space, make a lot of mess, and consume a lot of time.”

TELL HER THAT SHE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT.

“ ’Tis true,” I had agreed.

“And when we go to Grand Beach for a weekend, we can hardly bring them along, can we now? And, sure, won't the poor things be lonely here all by themselves?”

“They will.”

“And won't Damian take them for runs and over to the dog park and clean up the basement and the backyard and even plant flowers there, the poor dear lad?”

“Will their ladyships accept him?”

“Och, don't they adore him altogether like?”

“Is he a dog man by profession?”

“A handyman. Doesn't he do odd jobs and himself living in a little attic above a store over on Fullerton?”

“How old is he?”

“Well ... isn't he a lot younger than you and maybe a little younger than meself?”

“Da,” Nelliecoyne had put her two cents into the discussion, “he's grand altogether. He has such a beautiful golden halo.”

“Halo?” I said with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

“You know, Da,” she said, impatient with my slowness, “just like the saints over in church.”

“Just like the saints?”

Me wife pointedly avoided my questioning look.

“Not just like them, is it now, Nellie?”

“No, Ma, it's all hazy and misty like around real people.”

“Do I have a color, Nelliecoyne?” I asked cautiously, fearful that the door of the fun house might slam shut at any moment.

“Ma, isn't it a pretty blue like his eyes and doesn't it have a lot of little lights in it?”

“ ’Tis, dear," she said, still avoiding my pretty blue eyes.

SEE WHAT YOU’VE GOT YOURSELF INTO NOW!

“And your ma's color?”

“Da, you know what it is!”

“Sometimes I can't see it too clearly.”

“Isn't it just like the sun shining on our silver tea set?”

“Of course, just that ... Does it change when she looks at me?”

“You know” she stamped her little foot ”that it becomes kind of rose.”

Halos for sexual attraction! Wasn't that cute!

“Your little sister?” I asked, figuring I ought to know about these off-the-wall phenomena that were happening in my perfectly sane home on Southport Avenue, City of Chicago, County of Cook, State of Illinois, United States of America, Earth, Solar System, Cosmos.

With her brightest smile, Nelliecoyne said, “Oh, Da, such a pretty red, just like the robes Cardinal Sean wears sometimes.”

“Everyone has halos, Nellie?”

“Some people you hardly notice,” she admitted. “Anyway, Da, we call them auras don't we, Ma?”

“Yes, dear.”

Nelliecoyne drifted off to the playroom where Socra Marie was playing with our neighbor down the street. Katiesue Murphy is a couple of months older and with as strong a will as our daughter's. Her father is the little bishop's nephew and teaches anthropology at Loyola University and her mother is Cindasue McLeod, a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard, though I suspect she's really a gumshoe for the Treasury Department. Katiesue, who almost always wears some kind of Coast Guard uniform, and Socra Marie seem to get along just fine, though I become uneasy when my little girl says, “Shunuff!” with a perfect Appalachian accent.

“You never told me about the auras,” I began, when Nelliecoyne was out of the room.

“You never asked.”

Her head was averted.

“You can tell when I'm thinking obscene thoughts about you?”

“I don't need the aura to know that.”

“I can't see your aura when it turns silver rose.”

“I'm sure you could if you tried hard.”

Her face had turned rose.

Idiot, a voice inside me, not this time the Adversary, observed, you can pretend to see it.

I'd never fool her.

“Sometimes,” she said in her professorial tone, “I hardly notice someone's aura, just a few little colored dots. Then sometimes it's like a brief burst of light. Other times it's dazzling, almost blinding.”

“Oh,” I said in a tiny voice.

“Yours is always dazzling,” she said, “well, almost always. I knew what kind of a man you were the moment you came into O'Neill's on that foggy night and I saw that wonderful blue glow all around you. Wasn't I hoping that none of the other women in the place saw it?”

This was, I suspected, mostly blarney. You could never be sure, however, about Nuala Anne. Truth and blarney interacted in strange ways in her mystical soul. Some things were simply true, others were true “in a manner of speaking,” and yet others were True in some transcendental fashion even if they were at odds with the known facts.

“Were you now?” I replied with a question since we were talking Irish talk.

“Wasn't I now? Something terrible. And didn't I say to myself then and there ‘Nuala Anne McGrail, you're just going to have to sleep with that man.’ And didn't I now?”

“A long time later, after we were married.”

“Sure, didn't I know that if I seduced you that night, I'd shock you something terrible, and you Yanks being so shy?”

Fiction by now had caught up with fact and passed it. Among her many personae, one of the core masks, a proto Nuala Anne, was the shy, mystical Irish-speaking virgin, a role she still played with considerable appeal on some occasions, especially when I was attempting to undress her.

“So you want us to hire this Damian O'Sullivan because he has a golden aura?”

“Dermot Michael Coyne, I most certainly do not! I want to hire him because we need someone to help with the dogs. All the aura tells me is that there is no harm in him. Harm has been done to him, but there's no harm in him.”

Ah, that added another dimension. In fact, we were hiring Damian O'Sullivan because he needed our help and was going to get that help whether he knew it or not, indeed whether he liked the prospect of our help or not.

THAT’S WHAT YOU GET, BOYO, FOR MARRYING A WITCH.

So after I had listened to Damian's confession, I said to him, “If you don't mind putting up with us, you're welcome to the job.”

My wife smiled at me. I had recited my lines well.

“Thank you, sir. I don't drink anymore, and I get around on my bike and the bus and the L. I'll try not to embarrass you.”

That night after we made love, Nuala whispered in my ear, “That poor boy never killed anyone.”

Which meant we were supposed to find out who did.

Thus did he join our family. His care of the hounds had relieved some of the burden on my wife, though now Damian himself was a burden. Who had done harm to him and why?

He cleaned the yard and the basement and planted flowers in the garden, which the dogs were warned to avoid. Astonishingly they did. He came and went quietly and never upset the order of our family life, such as it was. He chatted shyly with Ethne, our Galway-born nanny who was a graduate student at DePaul. She seemed to find him mildly interesting.

“He's a nice boy,” she informed us. “Everyone in the neighborhood likes him. There's some extreme heavy thing with his family. They undercut him all the time.”

“Do they now?” Nuala murmured.

I went over to the dog park once to watch the hounds frolic with him. They are big dogs, very big dogs compared with the others in the park. When they arrive it's like a whole new game begins. Fiona and Maeve chase the others and then they chase back. No one tries to mess with the hounds, not even the occasional Rotweiler that might wander in. They're friendly, good-natured pooches. They also have big teeth, very, very big.

They respond instantly to Day's call, though when I've been responsible for playing with them, they tend to ignore me. But my aura is only pretty blue, not bright gold.

He attached the expanding leashes to their collars, a process they did not like but of which they were forbearing when Day was doing it. Then as they prepared to return to our prefire home on Southport, four little kids accompanied by two dubious mothers approached the hounds from a safe distance.

“Big doggies,” said a little girl, braver than the rest.

“Are they dangerous?” one of the mothers asked dubiously.

“Not at all, ma'am,” Day said with a dazzling smile. “They love little kids ... Fiona, shake hands with the little girl.”

Fifi, as my wife called her, promptly extended a paw in greeting. Hesitantly the kid extended her right hand.

“Mom, she's so sweet!”

“Maeve, roll over for the little boy!”

With evident delight, the biggest wolfhound bitch in all the world (or so Nuala Anne insisted she was) rolled over and waved her paws in the air.

“She wants you to scratch her stomach.”

He did just that. Maymay made a purring noise. Then the other kids joined the fun. They hugged and petted the dogs and even permitted the dogs to kiss them. Day presided over the game with evident glee.

“I suppose they're not very good watchdogs,” one of the moms said, a Lincoln Park Limousine Liberal, I thought, who had to be politically correct on all occasions: you had to have a reason to let such monsters into your house.

“Best in the world,” Day said proudly. “They can smell the difference between good and evil, can't you?”

He rubbed their big heads.

“Shall we go home!”

At the word “home” the dogs climbed to their feet and prepared to run.

“Say good-bye to the nice kids.”

The hounds barked. The kids waved good-bye. Day and his entourage were off and running. Great little show.

I was looking forward to meeting his father, John Patrick O'Sullivan. I was quite certain that herself would enact a scene for him. No, it would be more than a scene. It would be a performance.

Excerpted from “Irish Cream” by Andrew Greeley. Copyright © 2005 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd. Published by All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.