Thursday, April 11, 2002

Death's a Beach: a Sister Cecile Mystery by Winona Sullivan

Ivy Books, 0804115680, $2.95

Sister Cecile Buddenbrooks is no ordinary nun, at least not the kind any survivor of Catholic school (like myself) would recognize. An heiress with a private investigator's license (see previous mysteries A Sudden Death at the Norfolk Cafe and Dead South for the backstory on this), Sister Cecile supplements the income of the Miami retirement home for Catholic religious with money earned from her detective work. In Death's a Beach, a plum assignment is handed to her as a local banking concerns hires the nun to look into the mysterious death of one of their own and locate some important documents last seen on his person.

For all her contacts and smarts, however, Cecile is unaware that the prime suspect in Elliot Barclay's death is not Barclay himself but Cecile's pre-teen charge, Leonie, who unwittingly was involved in the man's demise. Leonie's secret is not completely sealed, however, and soon Cecile's perogative changes from finding documents to protecting Leonie from a dark underworld of questionable business practices, a admirer of Barclay's bent on revenge, and a bigoted police officer who makes Archie Bunker look like Santa Claus.

By mystery series standards, the Sister Cecile stories are relatively new (Saving Death, however, was just released in early 2000), and all are fresh and entertaining reads. Even the change in locales from Boston to Miami in Dead South does little to dull Cecile's penchant for adventure and the charm of her sidekicks, young Leonie and wise Sister Raphael. Only in fiction can a nun tool around in a Jaguar or a Ferrari and be believable.

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