The next in McInerny's sharp and witty mystery series set at Notre Dame and featuring Professor Roger Knight and his private detective brother, Philip.
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November 03, 2003
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Excerpt from Irish Coffee by Ralph McInerny
Our Mutual Friend
ONE GOLDEN OCTOBER DAY, Roger and Philip Knight turned onto Notre Dame Avenue and as they neared Napoleon Boulevard Roger asked his brother to pull up in front of a venerable house of yellow brick. Roger regarded it with devotion and something like a nostalgic sigh escaped him.
"Who lives there?" Philip asked apprehensively. Did he fear that Roger had tired of their comfortable apartment in Notre Dame Village and was longing for them to have a home of their own again? Phil had shaken the dust of their house in Rye, New York, from his feet almost as willingly as he had left Manhattan some years earlier.
"It's the Lilac House."
"I don't see any."
"It's October. The University built this house for Maurice Francis Egan, one of the perks to lure him to Notre Dame."
"The name is not familiar?"
It was not familiar to Philip but it became so as they continued home. Stopped by the light at Angela Boulevard before they could turn east, their eyes were drawn down the tree-lined avenue to the great pile of the Main Building and atop it, afire in the setting sun, the golden statue of Our Lady. Roger paused suitably and then continued his narration.
Maurice Francis Egan had been brought to Notre Dame by Father Sorin and named professor of literature, deserting the editorship of a New York newspaper to accept the offer. When the Main Building burned to the ground in 1879, Egan had edited a volume of poetry, the proceeds of the sales of which went to the rebuilding fund. How could Father Sorin fail to want to bind such a man more closely to Notre Dame? Hence the offer of a professorship and the construction of what Egan christened Lilac House, having planted lilac bushes all about the place. Roger's interest in Egan had taken its rise from Greg Whelan's remark that Roger's appointment to the Huneker Chair of Catholic Literature was reminiscent of Egan's Notre Dame connection.
"What do you have on him?" Roger had asked. Greg worked in the University archives.
And so he had. There were also some sixty books by Egan in the Hesburgh Library -- poetry, novels, criticism, an appreciation of Leo XIII, an account of the Knights of Columbus in peace and war, and his delightful autobiography, Recollections of a Happy Life.
Roger had been a prodigy, recipient of a Princeton doctorate at the age of twenty-one, the year after he had converted to Catholicism. Age and his enormous weight, plus a paucity of positions in philosophy, led Roger, in a fit of romantic melancholy, to enlist in the navy. The recruiter, perhaps moved by the thought of what naval discipline might do for this unpromising physical specimen, had suitably altered Roger's application and into boot camp he had gone. There he had proved more of a problem than a challenge. He had passed the crucial swimming test by floating the length of the pool, mesmerized by the neon lighting above him. Assigned to the base library, he had wallowed and read for a year until a stern lieutenant commander had pronounced him unfit for his country's service. Discharged, he moved in with his brother, Philip, and, when the perils of life in Manhattan had proved too much, again moved with him to Rye where he had assisted Philip in his profession as private investigator. His monograph on Baron Corvo appeared to rave reviews and modest sales and caught the eye of Father Carmody at Notre Dame in whose gift the newly endowed Huneker Chair of Catholic Studies effectively was. Roger's avoirdupois was not an impediment to professorial life; his learning and affability were weighty assets, and he had been offered and accepted the appointment. For three years, he had flourished in the classroom while Phil enjoyed access to the full spectrum of Notre Dame sports and continued his investigation business.