Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Novena for Murder: Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

This is a very cozy mystery starring a nun as amateur sleuth. Sister Mary Helen has retired at 75 and is sent to Mt. Saint Francis College for Women in San Francisco. Shortly after she arrives the body of a professor at the school is found, following an earthquake. The police blame the wrong person, in Sister Mary Helen's opinion, so it is up to her to find out what happened. 

I read this book back in February, but I still have fond memories of it, even though the mystery is much lighter than my usual reading. I liked the setting and the characters; it was the perfect read for me at the time.

I don't read many cozy mysteries, although I do have a goal to try out more cozy mysteries by new (to me) authors. That could be the subject for a post. What is a cozy mystery? Why do some readers prefer them and others look down on them?

Anyway, moving on to this book:

I haven't read many books with a religious setting, but I have enjoyed those that I have read. The author was a nun and was working actively in the monastery while writing this series. Sister Carol Anne O'Marie was 54 when she wrote the first book in the series; the protagonist in this series is 75 and retiring. She is not really ready to retire so she naturally gets involved with a crime that has occurred on campus.

There is an interesting subplot involving Portuguese immigrants who have been helped to enter the US and are now students or workers at the college. When Sister Mary Helen starts looking into that issue and the murder, she meets several cops who continue to show up in later books in the series: Inspector Gallagher; a female inspector, Kate Murphy, assigned to the case; and her boyfriend, Jack Bassett. There are lots of characters (other nuns, students, employees, and the police) and that can get confusing. 

I enjoyed the depiction of San Francisco, especially the chilly weather and fog rolling in, which is so true. Also, the descriptions of life in a religious community (in 1984) were intriguing. 

Sister Mary Helen is an avid reader of murder mysteries and, when detecting, she refers to what fictional detectives would do (such as Charlie Chan). That was entertaining but sometimes those comments felt forced and repetitious. She was also heavily into literary quotes and I definitely got tired of that; it felt like padding. Issues like those I would attribute to the novel being the first one she wrote. The series continued for ten more books.

So, overall this is a story I enjoyed and a series I would like to continue, if I can fit it into all the other books I plan to read.

See this article at Clerical Detectives for more about the author, the series, and evaluations of all eleven books in the series.


Publisher: Dell, 1986 (orig. pub. 1984)
Length:    182 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Sister Mary Helen
Setting:    San Francisco, California 
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book in 2006.


Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, Tracy, I haven't thought about this series in too long! It is an enjoyable series, and I like Sister Mary Helen as a protagonist. I need to get back to these novels.

TracyK said...

Margot, it certainly took me too long to get to this book, but I think I liked it better now than I might have 10 years ago.

Unknown said...

Sorry, no comment again. I'm really struggling here, and the death of Ginsberg, and the GOP response has me literally ill with sadness (the death) and anger (McConnell, Trump, et al). So I'm sure it's a nice book, but I can't concentrate enough to think about it.

I hope you are well and content.

TracyK said...

It is a sad day. I am sort of numb to politics right now, it is all mostly bad. I am doing fine and we are having a sunny, clear day with moderate air quality.

Rick Robinson said...

That unknown above was me. Don't know what happened.

TracyK said...

I thought it might be you, Rick. But wasn't sure. Because our air quality is so much better I have been gardening today, which is nice and fulfilling. So far, my reading this month is very slow, maybe it will pick up.

Clothes in Books said...

I read some of these years ago, not sure which, but can never resist a book about nuns. I might be tempted to look up this series again.
Regarding the range of characters: a priest I know was talking to a nun about a book they had both read, and the priest said that it was quite confusing to keep track of all the characters. And the nun said 'Us nuns never have a problem with that in books, because we are so used to keeping straight in our minds all the nuns in the convent, who are all very similar and dressed the same. A book with many characters has no fears for us.' Isn't that a great story? So perhaps the author was the same, not worried by that.

TracyK said...

That is a great story, Moira. And you may be right about the author being used to that situation. This was not the perfect mystery, but the combination of the location and the clerical characters made it a very enjoyable read. I have already ordered a copy of the second one because it is set at Christmas.

Mathew Paust said...

I find it fascinating that a nun writes crime novels. That alone attracts me to give her a try.

TracyK said...

I agree, Mathew. I think you would find some things to like in this novel, or a later one.

col2910 said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, but not holding much appeal for me I'm afraid.

TracyK said...

This is definitely too cozy for you, Col. There are some mysteries that are a blend of cozy-ish and the more edgy fiction, but this is on the light side.