Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Vow of Penance: Review

A Vow of Penance (1994) by Veronica Black is the fifth in this convent-based series starring Sister Joan. In this particular installment, Sister Joan is struggling during the Lenten season with her her far from Christian dislike of two new personalities within the order. There is the grim Sister Jerome who seems intent on making the season of Penance even more arduous than necessary and the newly ordained, very joyless Father Timothy who has come to fill in while their beloved Father Malone takes a much deserved sabbatical.

When she discusses the arrival of the two newcomers with the rectory housekeeper, Mrs. Fairly is sure that she's heard the name Sister Jerome somewhere before but cannot recall the circumstances. "I'll recall where I heard that name if I don't consciously think about it." Later that evening Sister Joan receives a puzzling (and far-from-complete due to a bad connection) phone call from Mrs. Fairly asking her to meet her in town at a cafe because "New lay--remembered where--not willing to trouble Father with--ten tomorrow." But when the nun arrives at the cafe she is joined at her table not by the bustling housekeeper but by Detective Sergeant Mill who informs her that Mrs. Fairly is dead--an apparent suicide.

Sister Joan refuses to believe that. She insists that the housekeeper was not the type and that even if she's wrong about that Mrs. Fairly would never had made an appointment to meet her if she planned on killing herself. She prods Mill into looking more closely into the death and does a little discreet detecting on her own. She's even given subtle encouragement to do so when Mother Dorothy assigns her to serve as housekeeper for the the priests until a full-time replacement can be found. Unfortunately, there will be two more victims and a bloody ax will appear on the chapel altar before Mills and Sister Joan can get to the bottom of the mystery. There are other puzzles as well. Why have the convent's trees been vandalized? Is there a connection similar vandalism that happened many years ago? And what was so important about Mrs. Fairly's purse?

This is an entertaining cozy mystery with just a hint of more gore than may be usual for the genre. Sister Joan is a spunky nun with an interesting relationship with Detective Mill. It is refreshing to see a relationship that doesn't depend on romance or sexual tension. Fully developed characters with realistic dialogue give a good foundation to the story. The culprit may not be well-hidden (after all, we aren't exactly given a great number to choose from), but figuring out the motive is a bit more difficult. Veronica Black weaves a convincing story that depends on the past to explain the present. ★★

[Finished on 4/11/18]

1 comment:

Clothes In Books said...

I remember reading and enjoying the Sister Joan books in the 1990s. Can’t remember if I read this one – I must look on the shelves. They were fun reads, although I have to say, the author gave the impression of never having set foot in England, where they are set…