Where Nun Have Gone Before


Sister Carol Anne O'Marie died last year after an unusual combination career as a nun and a mystery writer.

A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Los Angeles, she lived in the Bay Area, which is where she set her series, featuring San Francisco-based nun Sister Mary Helen.

I interviewed her twice, once in conjunction with the series, and once when she co-founded A Friendly Place, a shelter for homeless women in downtown Oakland.

They say to write about what you know, and Sister Carol Anne knew about a nun's life. That’s what made Sister Mary Helen such a lively and engaging character, at least for the first few books.

After a while [and there are 11 books in the series], it gets a little difficult to work a crime-solving nun into the plot. I began to wonder why anyone wanted attend the college where much of the series was set, as its homicide rate must have been off the charts.

The books were less successful in their depiction of lay characters, particularly the two detectives who kept trying to keep Sister Mary Helen on the sidelines. They simply did not talk like real people, much less cops, and I had to conclude that while the author might have learned the steps the police take at a crime scene, she didn’t know how they acted.

Still, the books provided an entertaining look at a segment of society we don't usually associate with murder mysteries.

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