George Orwell, who famously, and wrongly, concluded that the Billy Bunter oeuvre was too vast to have been written by one man (Frank Richards), would have had a similar problem with the output of Ralph McInerny, the American Catholic scholar and writer of detective fiction. For not only did McInerny write 81 novels, including 28 featuring his best- loved sleuth, Father Dowling, he was also the author of many books on religious philosophy, including studies of Thomas Aquinas, Descartes and Dante, as well as guides to the art of fiction, a compendious memoir, a book of poetry and a textbook on Latin.
From 1955 until his retirement in 2009, he taught with distinction at the University of Notre Dame, America’s best-known Catholic university, where many of his stories were set, earning a reputation among students for his good humour, traditional outlook and unflinching intellectual rigour.
But while others saw him for what he evidently was, a conservative Christian writer in the academic tradition of C. S. Lewis, or an academic in the literary tradition of G. K. Chesterton, McInerny was less convinced of his standing.
His memoir, I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You, published in 2006, when he was 77, begins: “To say that this book is not the Confessions of Saint Augustine may seem as gratuitous as saying that none of my novels is War and Peace, but the point has point. In writing these memoirs I have been conscious of the fact that I am not writing the story of a soul; that would be an altogether more depressing exercise. The septuagenarian finds self-delusion difficult, and there is an account of my life that could be of interest only to God and myself. What I have written is the truth, but of course it is not the whole truth, not even the fuller grasp I might myself have of it. Even for that, I would want to invoke St Paul’s neque meipsum iudico, his admission that he remained largely a mystery to himself and was unable to say for certain that he was in the state of grace.” Read in full in The Times.