After spring classes end and summer begins, you might overhear some of the Sisters talking a lot about murders.
Murder mysteries, that is. If you need any beach reading recommendations this year, two of the many IHMs who are avid detective fiction fans were kind enough to share a list of their favorites.
“I know no better relaxation than curling up in my favorite chair with a hot cup of tea (and cookies!) and a good murder mystery/detective story,” says Sister Sheila Galligan, IHM, S.T.L., S.T.D., professor emerita of Theology. “Make it a well-crafted Christ-haunted murder mystery that delves into spiritual, theological, and social concerns, and you have my perfect afternoon.”
Sister Judith Parsons, IHM, Ph.D., associate professor of Philosophy, speaks affectionately of the various detectives she has followed through a series of books, observing their character development. “These people become almost like family,” she says.
“They’re not superheroes—they have their faults and their failings,” adds Sister Sheila. “But there’s an integrity about them. You have to admire their courage and their relentless pursuit of truth, even if it’s going to cause suffering.”
Because some mystery novels can be violent and graphic, Sister Judith often looks for new book recommendations from Malice Domestic, a fan convention that celebrates the kind of “traditional mysteries” written by Agatha Christie. These novels often have a whimsical feel and an engaging puzzle for the main character to solve in order to set things right.
“I think that the enduring popularity of murder mysteries seems to indicate that deep in our hearts, we still believe in justice,” says Sister Sheila. Good mysteries have universal themes of suffering, struggle, redemption, and compassion. Here is a list of Sister Sheila’s and Sister Judith’s top picks.
- Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny—These novels ususally top the list of any murder mystery recommendations Sister Sheila and Sister Judith make. Sister Sheila says of Penny, “She doesn’t write feel-good, sentimental novels with everything falling neatly into place by the finish. Instead she creates real scenarios that expose the tolls exacted by real living, where good is not always rewarded and evil not always punished.” But Penny infuses each book with goodness and hope. In How the Light Gets In, she writes: “Armand Gamache had always held unfashionable beliefs. He believed the light would banish the shadows. That kindness was more powerful than cruelty, and that goodness existed, even in the most desperate places. He believed that evil had its limits.”
- Inspector Ian Rutledge series by Charles and Caroline Todd—These mysteries by a mother-son writing team feature Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard inspector suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt after fighting in World War I. With his knack for getting witnesses and suspects to talk when they would rather keep silent, Rutledge works to untangle secrets and old grievances. “The characters are great, complicated and accruing layers of depth as the series progresses,” Sister Sheila says.
- Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen—Molly is a charming, spunky Irish woman who immigrates to New York City in the early 1900s and works to become a private detective at a time when women are not even allowed to vote. Bowen colors her books with rich historical detail, giving readers a well-researched picture of the struggles for unionized labor and women’s suffrage.
- Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen—This delightfully witty series follows the adventures of Lady Georgiana, a stylish but penniless noblewoman in 1930s Britain who receives special spying assignments from the queen. Georgie must navigate the politics of high society while also pursuing her love interest, an unsuitable minor royal. This series is lighthearted and fun, Sister Judith says—a perfect example of “cozy” mysteries.
- Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear—“Maisie Dobbs is a likable and clever character, and getting to know how she reads people is fascinating,” says Sister Sheila. Maisie served as a nurse on the battlefield during World War I and now works as a psychologist and private investigator during the post-war years. Her psychological training helps her to both analyze crimes and gain insight into the trauma of war.
- Seaside Knitters Society series by Sally Goldenbaum—In a beautiful village on the coast of Massachusetts, four friends share a love of knitting and amateur sleuthing. They gather for regular meals together, often featuring delicious New England seafood dishes, and they discuss possible solutions to mysteries. Sister Judith enjoys Goldenbaum’s descriptions of these sumptuous community meals, which remind her of the Eucharist.
- Inspector Adam Dalgleish series by D. James—“P.D. James’ mysteries have intricate plots, family relationships, and psychology,” Sister Sheila says. “[Inspector Dalgleish] finds himself caught in a world of ambiguity and violence where love often is a possessive passion, which is easily transformed into hate. Crime is often the result of the ignorance and despair of ordinary people.”
Sister Sheila quotes Christian author John Leax, who outlines the basic plot of classic mysteries written by authors such as Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and P.D. James: “An ordered world is disturbed, usually by a murder. A genius, Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion, or Adam Dalgliesh, enters, exercises either intellect or intuition, discovers (often through some trial or imaginative identification with the criminal) who-done-it, and without revoking the horror, restores order. Once again the pattern of the Christian story of sin, retribution, and restoration is acted out.”
“Isn’t that a marvelous thought?” Sister Sheila says.