Thursday, April 11, 2002

Death of an Angel: a Sister Mary Helen Mystery by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

St. Martin's, 0312963963, $5.39

Sister Mary Helen is not one to let the ravages of age and declining health prevent her from completing a goal, be it solving a murder or doing her best to play guardian angel to someone she believes is in need. In Death of an Angel, however, she's pulling a double duty. A killer/rapist is on the loose in the Oakland area, and the effects of his crimes are felt deeply within the community of Mount St. Francis College when a beloved, elderly friend of the nun's is counted among his victims. Never one to let such a mystery die, particularly one hitting this close to home, Sister Mary Helen is finds a new vocation in her search for the killer.

Her second project, catering to wallflower college employee Angelica Bowers, is by no means shelved, as Sister wants desparately to boost the young woman's self-esteem and lower her calorie intake. Unbeknownst to the nun, Angelica has plans of her own, namely destroying the one thing she blames for her current state: her mother.

Maybe my faith has something to do with it, but I tend to gravitate toward mysteries starring sleuths who wear some sort of religious habit. In many cases the characters are likeable, and treatment of supporting players is fair. In this novel, however, the portrayal of Angelica Bowers as an overweight person, I must admit, bothered me a tad. This is not to say that Sister O'Marie is predjudiced against overweight people, but at times I admit I was bothered by the implications made in this story that overweight is equated to useless. Having lived with weight problems myself, I tend to take such remarks to heart. Maybe it's just me, but I never had difficulty accomplishing what I wished because of my weight.

As far as the mystery aspect of this story, Death of an Angel brought to mind an episode of "The Commish" I saw once with a similar plot. The murderer was, like in this story, met early on, and protected vigorously by a predictable source, hence shedding light on the motives for murder. I won't give the story away, but if you read this story you will easily see who the true angels are and who is trying to be one.

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