|Sister Gertrude & the Benedictine Bloodhounds
(creator: Betty Hyland)
|The Benedictine Bloodhounds are nuns at the Monastery of St Benedict of Norcia, which, we are told, is just outside the small town of Loughlin "on the far eastern tip of Grande Island" and houses some 30 Sisters, all devoted to work and prayer, most of them teaching in their school, nursing or working in the monastery. Only the oldest of them still wear habits and they all enjoy watching the latest TV crime serials. Led by Sister Gertrude, they prove so good at helping to solve murder mysteries (of which there seem to be about one a year at this particular monastery) that the local police suggest they could open their own detective agency.
Elizabeth (usually writing as Betty) Hyland (1927-2012) was born in Queens and graduated from the Katharine Gibbs School in New York. She did secretarial work before settling in northern Virginia. She became a prolific writer and activist on mental illness and is best known known for her 1987 novel The Girl With the Crazy Brother about a teenager struggling to cope with her schizophrenic brother. This arose out of her own experience with a schizophrenic son who predeceased her. When she was in her eighties, she also self-published The Benedictine Bloodhounds, reviewed below. She was married and last lived in Reston, Virginia, where she died of cancer, leaving two sons and six grandchildren.
The Benedictine Bloodhounds (2008)
It is all written in a chatty, "cozy" style, but is fun to read, just as the author intended. Even when Brigid visits a man just about to be executed, she manages to ask him cheerfully, "Any psalm or hymn or catchy tune you want to hear, Ray?" and, when worried about the speed at which local developer Mr Brittin is giving her a lift, "her prayer was that she would not precede Ray in death as Mr Brittin passed a tractor trailer honking his horn and, she was pretty certain, cursing under his breath. She knew a word or two from her prison work. Whew! They made it." And there are no end of jokes about gourds, which the Sisters grow. "Have a gourd day," Clyde would joke. And we learn in a later story that, even on his little memorial stone, schoolchildren had affectionately painted, "Gourd bye".
Somewhat surprisingly, the explanation of the history of the monastery and the cast list of Sisters appears at the end of this first novella, instead of before it which would have made more sense.
Amongst new characters introduced are Dutton, the handyman, who does not seem too handy: "I think I'm a Baptist," he tells Sister Gertrude when first appointed, and later on, is described as "wondering if he knew how to do electrical work". And he demonstrates conclusively that he can't do plumbing. The story is full of such gentle humor.
The Case of the Benedictine Burial starts with the body of the late Sister Jane de Chantal awaiting burial. She had been nearly 83. The monastery's new resident priest, Father Augustus Berkeley, says the Requiem Mass. His brother Nat, who describes himself as "just a vagabond" sets off on a search for gold in Belize. "Why don't you find yourself a wife?" he had asked his brother.
Jim, after listening to their suggestions, tells the nuns, "You sisters should open a detective agency."
There is a chilling sequence when a long dead body has to be exhumed from the nuns' graveyard but it is all rather slow moving and lacks the entertainment value of the other stories.
The Case of the Benedictine Booty sees yet another handyman and resident priest in place. Both turn out to be odd characters: Raymond, the handyman, is regularly heard by the nuns praying out loudly and is seen carrying mysterious small packages into the woods at night. Father Liam O Suilleabhain (surely it should be O'), an exuberant Irish Franciscan, delights the Sisters by calling them all "Sister darlin'" but does not seem to know how to pronounce Omagh, and he does not carry holy oils. So, when a dead body is found, both become possible suspects.
The story involves a murdered corpse, invaluable long-long lost altar pieces and wife abuse, so plenty happens, and, when a policeman becomes the subject of a violent attack, it is no wonder that Detective Jim Evers reports back, "There's something fishy here" - but luckily shy Sister Lucia is there to suggest how a trap could be set. It is then that Jim tells them, "You'd make good detectives. You ought to form a group, get a name; something like Sister in Crime."
However, it is very much a return to form for the author. The nuns play a major part in the detective work ("The sleuth in me is never very far below the surface," laughs Sister Gertrude), and it is another enjoyable read.
|The cover does not suggest any of the fun of the content.|