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Requiem at the Refuge

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Three moon gifSt. Martin's Minotaur (Hardcover), ISBN 0-312-20906-1
Requiem at the Refuge, sixth in the Sister Mary Helen mystery series by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie, departs from the academic and pastoral setting of previous books. Sister Mary Helen ventures from the cloistered halls of Mount St. Francis College to Sister Anne's Refuge, a homeless women's shelter in downtown San Francisco. As a volunteer, Sister Mary Helen finds a new sisterhood peopled with employed and retired prostitutes.  

Book: Sister Carol Anne O'Marie, Requiem at the RefugeSeries regulars Inspectors Kate Murphy and Dennis Gallagher return to aid Sister Mary Helen in solving the death of one of the Refuge's frequent visitors. The case helps the inspectors resolve some of their personal problems as well. At the same time, the murder and subsequent investigation open Sister Mary Helen's eyes to the violence of street life and the evil that lurks in unexpected people and places.  

Sister Carol Anne O'Marie works hard to dispel stereotypes, beginning with Sister Mary Helen and ageism. O'Marie buys into some old-age expectations, but with Sister Mary Helen she creates a believable sleuth whose reasoning improves with age. Sister Anne's youthful ideology plays well against dogma of the older nuns. In addition, the author offers rarely seen sides of pimps and prostitutes, police inspectors, and even the mistresses and wives of college presidents. 

Book: Sister Carol Anne O'Marie, Death Takes Up A CollectionTo add another level to this already multi-layered novel, each chapter begins with a date, allowing readers to chart the progress of the investigation in the context of the Catholic devotional calendar. The book opens with the Feast of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin on August 15. It concludes on September 11, commemorating Saints Protus and Hyacinth, slaves and brothers who became Christian martyrs. The chosen dates always bear a close relationship to Sister Carol Anne O'Marie's characters and the situations in which they find themselves. 

Requiem at the Refuge is not without sin -- er, flaws. The author makes some abrupt shifts in point-of-view, that might give readers pause until they decipher who says what -- a minor glitch in an otherwise smoothly written cozy mystery.  

However, the murder will disappoint those who like gore, detail, tangled trails, ironic twists and suspense. Plus, the reader's first stab at whodunit will probably prove right. But the book's characterizations, interactions, the lives of the people at the convent and the homeless shelter linger in the memory and make this novel well worth reading. 

Dawn Goldsmith

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