Aimee and David Thurlo live in New Mexico, where this series of books is placed and Aimee was a boarder at Ursuline Academy in Arcadia, Missouri for many years. Her memories of the religious life at the academy and the written descriptions of daily schedules for the religious orders help the authors write a believable story of cloistered, financially struggling Our Lady of Hope monastery, of the Sisters of the Blessed Adoration order.
Our main character is Sister Agatha, a former investigative reporter and teacher, now extern nun, who deals with the outside world for the monastery. Sister Bernarda is the only other extern nun, Sister Mary Lazarus the only novice, Sister Celia the only postulant, Father Anselm the priest, Reverend Mother Margaret Mary and a handful of nuns completes the character list.
The mystery starts when Father Anselm dies during Mass, just before communion and the police determine some kind of poison killed him. Sheriff Tom Green is a former friend of Sister Agatha who still does not understand why she became a nun, even after 12 years. Because of her background in investigative reporting, the Reverend Mother asks Sister Agatha to investigate as well as the police. A problem here is the unreliable car, names the Antichrysler. The repairman solves this problem by giving the monastery a motorcycle with a sidecar, to keep even when the car is back in running order. Although the habit (dress) is shorter than before Vatican II, it is still long sleeved and they wear a head veil. Add a bike helmet over the veil and you have a nun on a motorcycle!
Add a sleep walking novice, a postulant with a disturbed past, a dog who finds a way into a secure at night monastery and still a murder to solve, I found this story entertaining. The dog rides in the sidecar as companion/security when Sister Agatha goes out, especially at night, which is a very amusing image. Sister Agatha visits various people in town, always on the motorcycle, finding clues as she goes.
The money making enterprises include herbal teas, a special cookie called the Heavenly Cloister Clusters, jams, beautiful hand-made quilts for auction at fundraisers, and transferring various documents into digital form, including old manuscripts and such. The extern nuns do most of this work, since it involves contact with the outside world and has a level of security to keep the documents safe. An on-going problem is keeping the computers cool in a New Mexico summer heat so a computer specialist donates his time as much as he can to keep them going. This is a modern twist on the copying of manuscripts in the scriptorium of medieval days and is a big money raiser. When problems keep arising with the computers, and as word spreads that a nun is under suspicion of murder, this source of income is threatened with loss of insurance and loss of customers.
Again, this story works in the daily order of prayers and work that make up a cloistered nun’s life. In this book, the greeting of nun to reverend mother is “Praised be Jesus Christ” with the response, “Now and Forever”. Other books in this series have similar greetings. This book balances the serenity of the cloistered life with the daily chores and problems of a shrinking and aging community that still has to support itself.
I look forward to reading more books in this particular series!!