The Pale Green Horse
By Michael I. Leahey, FCO '78
272 pages. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. $23.95.
Evil, real evil, does not always make its presence known with a sense of foreboding or with a shriek or a scream. Sometimes, the worst evil comes upon you with…a smile.
The late Michael I. Leahey's private detective, J. J. Donovan, learns this quickly in The Pale Green Horse, a "race against crime" mystery that takes him, and everyone in his world, into an investigation of seemingly inexplicable homicides. Inexplicable because they have been perpetrated on the terminally ill and there are clues that more murders are in the offing. The act of murder, by definition, seeks to deprive the victim of the preciousness of what continued life may offer. So, Donovan wonders, what is the purpose of shortening the life of someone who has only months to live? Is time stolen from someone with little of it left more satisfying to the sadistic mind than killing an individual with decades before them? Or is the opposite more likely to be true? Are these considerations useful in the solution of the murders or are they just pure speculation?
Donovan's answer comes by meeting the intended victims and, through some touching moments, he learns that the frailest people often possess reservoirs of strength and valor.
Like many New Yorkers, Donovan's family consists of a large collection of seemingly incompatible friends. Just as Holmes had Watson, Donovan has Koulomzin, as in Dr. Boris. They live and work in adjacent apartments of a postwar building on the Upper West Side, the various rooms crammed with the tools of their trade - fax machines, computers, file cabinets, large firearms, and piles of magazines, papers, books and mail. The building is ostensibly managed by Manny Santos with the aid of his many cousins who occupy the lobby as their personal fiefdom and serve the two self-described "consultants" as part-time chauffeurs and bodyguards. While all this is going on, Donovan is dating Kate, his ex-wife. (What could possibly be more "New York" than that?) As the case unfolds, the police get in the way and Donovan has to struggle with some disturbing philosophical and theological questions before he closes in on the murderer and the truly evil motive.
Why would a perfect God, for example, allow pain and suffering in the world, his creation? Pierre Bayle, the 17th-century philosopher, probably expressed it best: "Can perfect holiness produce a criminal creature? Would not omnipotence, joined with infinite goodness, furnish his own work plentifully with good things, and secure it from everything that might be offensive and vexacious?"
It is a mystery that has baffled the greatest thinkers. It certainly intrigued Michael Leahey, who died suddenly in January 2003, less than a year after the publication of The Pale Green Horse, his second novel. A son of alma mater―as was his brother and sister, their father, and several other relatives―Leahey knew the institution's strengths when he contemplated such matters. Perhaps that is why he had J. J. Donovan resolve his own uncertainties by saying, "I have decided to leave that question to the moral philosophers up at Fordham University."
―Bruce Antonio Laue