Bibliophile reviews Murder Makes a Pilgrimage

I have a bit of a problem with the two Robert Barnard books I read for the challenge. The endings of both were not to my liking for a reason a regular reader of this blog will be able to guess, and I want to read a third and maybe fourth Barnard to reassure myself it was an unlucky coincidence and not something that happens in all of his books. I may even slip someone into the challenge ahead of him. But here is a review of a book by an author already included in the challenge:

Author: Sister Carol Anne O’Marie
Series detective: Sister Mary Helen, w/ Sister Eileen
No. in series: 5
Year of publication: 1993
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateurs, police
Setting & time: Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Number of deaths: 1
Some themes: Abuse, jealousy, family

Story: Sister Mary Helen wins a trip for two to Santiago de Compostela in a sweepstake she doesn’t remember participating in, and invites her friend (and sidekick), Sister Eileen, along. At the airport they meet the rest of the winners and the slick young guide. They are: two single young women, one very attractive; and three married couples. From the start, none of the men is able to keep their eyes off the beautiful young woman, and jealousies already begin to erupt on the long flight to Spain. On the first morning in Compostela, Sister Mary Helen finds the young beauty murdered by the shrine of St. James in the cathedral. The police begin their investigation, and the nuns, experienced amateur sleuths by now, can’t help doing a bit of snooping of their own. Before long their police friends in San Francisco are dragged in as well, because the Spanish police need background information about the tourists. Someone makes an attempt on Sister Mary Helen’s life, and then a robbery attempt, and then a final, spectacular assassination attempt before the pieces of the puzzle start to come together and the investigators find out that the murdered girl had a previous connection with one of the group…

Review: This is a fine but somewhat overlong mystery. I can’t help thinking that if it had been cut by about 50 pages, it would have been better. The slightly neurotic new mother-cum-cop trying to decide whether to go back to being a cop or to take extended leave and become a stay-at-home mom really belongs in a different kind of story. As an editor I would have cut most of those scenes to shorten and streamline the story. In fact, I would have left out all the San Francisco scenes altogether, except the opening scenes where Sister Mary Helen gets the news of her prize and prepares to leave.
Apart from that, the mystery itself is good, and the story is a blend of seriousness, humour and mystery, with a pinch of action thrown in. Although the nuns do much sleuthing, they don't really solve the case. It is information from the San Francisco police that finally breaks the case open and a little help from the nuns that makes the killer confess.

Rating: Proof that the incongruity of sleuthing nuns is not just a one-off novelty. 3 stars.


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