Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Christening Day Murder

People live with their consciences better than we like to think. And guilt rarely leaves a mark that you can see. If it did, the police would have an easier job. Unfortunately, guilt isn't like a scar or a scarlet A. ~The Christening Day Murder (1993) by Lee Harris

Christine Bennett, former nun and sometime amateur investigator, is invited to the christening of the son of a childhood friend. Maddiie Stifler Clark was the last baby to be christened at the St. Mary Immaculate Church in Studsburg before an Army Corps of Engineers flooded the town to create a reservoir. Now, thirty years later, after a drought has dried up the lake, the town and church have reemerged and Maddie wants her son to be christened in the church. It's a happy occasion that is marred when Christine discovers a skeleton hidden under the basement stairs. Someone was shot, killed, and buried with the church under all that water 30 years ago. There's little evidence with the remains and no one seems to have gone missing from the small-town residents. But when Christine starts questioning the former inhabitants why does she feel like they're all hiding something from her?

Long after the official investigators give up on identifying their Jane Doe, Christine keeps digging and decides that she needs to focus on people who weren't really from Studsburg but who just worked there. After a couple of false starts, she finally discovers who the skeleton under the stairs was and why someone thought she was worth killing.

Nearly all of the Christine Bennett mysteries have at least one foot in the past. She excels at doing research and asking the right questions to jog people's memories. But most of the past memories have ties to current events. The Christening Day Murder is entirely focused on the events of 30 years ago, so Christine's work is really cut out for her and finding the answers to long-buried questions puts her skills to the test.

This was the first book in the series that I read many moons ago (long before blogging took over my life) and it was a pleasure to reread it after digging through boxes in the garage. I like that Christine is a tenacious investigator, but she is also more cautious than a lot of the amateur detectives in these cozy mysteries. She doesn't charge into situations without a thought for danger--her boyfriend Jack always knows where she's headed and who she plans to talk to. She's level-headed and compassionate--wanting to help people along the way in her investigations. Here, she manages to bring together a mother and daughter who haven't seen each other for 30 years. 

The clues pointing to the particular killer aren't quite what an armchair detective might want, but overall this is a solid mystery with an interesting background and unusual motive for the silence of the townspeople. Quite good. ★★ and 1/2.

Deaths = one (shot)
Calendar of Crime = July (Independence Day)

First Line: It began with a phone call out of the blue, a voice I hadn't heard for many months.
Last Line: It was a receipt fro a .38-caliber revolver bought by Candy Phillips before she came to Studsburg.

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