Mystery writer # 9: Sister Carol Anne O’Marie

Title: A Novena for Murder
No. in series: 1
Year published: 1984
Availability: In print
Pages: 183.
Setting & time: San Francisco – mostly Mount St. Francis College for Women, 1980’s (but has a somewhat timeless feel)
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateurs and police detectives
Some themes: Immigration, cultism, love, blackmail

Summary: 75 year old Sister Mary Helen has been dodging retirement for several years, but now the church has decided that she deserves her rest and she has been sent to Mount St. Francis College for Women to spend her retirement at what they call the Sister’s Residence, but she knows is nothing but a convent. The former teacher expects it to be boring, but a few days after her arrival, a Professor Villanueva is found murdered in his office and suspicion falls on Leonel, the assistant cook, whose fingerprints are found on the murder weapon. Sister Mary Helen is convinced of his innocence, and starts an investigation of her own. When she finds the body of Joanna, Villanueva’s secretary’s sister, in the college chapel, she is convinced the murders are in some way connected to the Portuguese immigrants Villanueva has been helping, since both victims and the prime suspect are Portuguese. The disappearance of Joanna’s M.A. thesis, which was about that subject, convinces the police that Mary Helen’s theory is correct, and since she has shown herself capable of ferreting out information the police couldn’t find, they allow her to assist in the investigation.

Review: Reviews of this novel and others by the author often mention G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, possibly because the sleuths are both Catholics in service of the church, but I find they have little else in common. Mary Helen does not seem to have Father Brown’s almost supernatural ability to notice tiny details – her forte is curiosity - and there is none of the dark fantasy element in this story that one finds in Chesterton.

For a first book it is very well written, suspenseful and funny, and fortunately Sister Carol has avoided making the story overly religious while still including details about nun’s lives that are all the more interesting for knowing she is writing from experience. Sister Mary Helen does not take a particularly religious approach to her sleuthing, which is good. I venture to say she has more in common with Miss Marple and other educator sleuths than she has with Father Brown, whose approach to crime solving is often spiritual.

Rating: A funny and entertaining story about a sleuthing nun. Will definitely be looking for more. 4 stars.

About the author


Anonymous said…
thanks :P
greetz from holland.

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