Sister Angela

(creator: L E Chamberlain)


L E Chamberlain
Sister Angela is a middle-aged nun with a "mature figure" who teaches history at Scuola Media di Santa Donata, a Catholic school for teenage boys and girls in the little Italian town of Montriano (based on San Gimignano), but who has a special gift for solving mysteries: "She could put clues together and see possibilities". She called her gift "an instrument or divine intervention", and the local Police Inspector DiMarco was so impressed by her that he would often send for her help and invite her to attend his interviewing of suspects, allowing her to take part - and sometimes even give him instructions! He gets in touch with her using the red cell phone that he has given her. He had wanted "to make her an official detective, but his captain found the idea ridiculous."
"She's a wonderful resource for the department," DiMarco had explained. She was so good at dealing with people: "It was not just her habit that made people trust enough to talk. It was the way the nun listened and understood."

She wore bifocals but "Fortunately, she did not have to wear the old style habit. Since Vatican II, the uniform had become much lighter and shorter", but even so "her swollen feet complained bitterly. She carried a pair of white sneakers, just in case they refused to take another step. She still had to wear black shoes around the convent and school, however."

"If she had a fault, and Sister Angela admitted to many, it was a lack of respect for authority .... She often forgot that a subtle approach might appease those with influence in both the diocese and the police department." So she often has to justify herself both to her Mother Superior and the strictly conservative Father Sergio: "Your vocation is teaching, Sister Angela, is it not?" he demanded".
"If by vocation, you mean the work I do here, yes. But my calling is my detective work, Father Sergio." And, right at the end, even he has to congratulate her on what she has done.

L E Chamberlain (? - ), whose real name is Coralie Hughes Jensen, was born and raised on the west coast of the USA, but got the idea for this book when visiting San Gimignano in the Tuscan hills. She is also the author of seven novels under her real name. She says that she travels and is even prepared to move in order to understand her characters better. She has published in magazines and won honorable mention for two short stories in the Writer’s Digest 2000 Writing Competition. A graduate in English from the University of California at Berkeley, she now lives with her husband and golden retriever in Massachusetts. She appears onTwitter as Corkyhj.

L'Oro Verde (2007)
L'Oro Verde describes how, in the quiet hill country of Tuscan Italy, young man Bernardo's body is discovered propped up against the statue of St. Francis of Assisi in the medieval church where for years he served as altar boy. Local nun and teacher, Sister Angela, is alerted of the crime by Montriano Police Inspector DiMarco. Her investigative abilities are needed to solve this perplexing case.
Complicated by pressure from the bishop's deputy, Father Sergio, who questions the compatibility of her role as part-time police detective with her teaching vocation, the nun struggles to understand the victim's relationship to the powerful families involved in the production of l'oro verde, the region's famous olive oil, its green gold. In the process, Sister Angela and the inspector learn that slow-learning young Bernardo was not who he seemed to be.

Apparently, this is not the first time that Sister Angela had helped the police, although this is the first of her adventures to be published. It is Mother Margarita who now tells her, " You don't need a phone for your vocation. You are getting far too familiar with the ways outside of school. I find it unseemly."
But Sister Angela points out, "It is important to the community that the police get to me quickly .... It is, after all,a God-given talent that shouldn't be ignored. Isn't that in the Bible?"
Her superior tells her, "I suppose you can keep the phone while I pray for an answer, but I won't tolerate that thing going off in the middle of services or during your class time." So, as usual, Sister Angela gets her way - and sets her phone just to vibrate during services.

Murder victims are often described quite briefly as authors do not always want us to identify too closely with them, but in this case young Barnardo, in his early twenties, who had been a "slow learner" at school and subsequently, is brought to life as an interesting person. And the differences of opinion between Sister Angela and her superiors are always lively. Other village characters, such as Father Dominic who is (wrongly) suspected of having an unnatural interest in young boys, are sketched in more lightly, and the basic plot, involving incest and adoption, is not really all that arresting, despite the way that the author ends most chapters with some sort of tease, such as: "What more can go wrong? the inspector thought. He would learn the answer to that question before the day was out."

Some of the dialogue is rather stilted as when a bus driver tells Sister Angela, "This is the last stop, Sister, unless you want me to take you back to Petraggio. Time goes fast when we talk. I like it when I have somebody to talk to."
'Thank you, Stefano. Your information has certainly enlightened me,' she said, climbing down from the bus."

Another example is when a suspect who owns an olive orchard explains, "I always work in the evening. I check out every orchard, every tree until nightfall. Then I go to my office in the mill and peruse our list of customers. I form marketing strategies and scrutinise the situation months ahead to see which contracts are ending and the like. It gives me a chance to start working with the customers early so we don't lose their business, and then, at about 10, I retire." This sort of dialogue doesn't sound any too convincing.

Then, right at the end. altogether too much time is spent on explanations. However, Sister Angela remains an attractive character, and it will be interesting to see how, and if, her character develops in later books.


The author has her own website.

Her books are printed to order, which means that few are printed, and used copies are hard to find.



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L'Oro Verde cover
This is a printed-to-order book with a particularly handsome (and very relevant) cover. Unfortunately it uses an elongated typeface and occasional olive branch decoration (see below), both of which are slightly distracting.
Text
Olive branch
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