Brigid Donovan

(creator: Karen Saum)


Karen Saum
Karen Saum (1935 - ) was born and raised in Panama. She and her mother were evacuated from there at the start of World War 2. Her publications include short stories and several crime fiction novels, including the Brigid Donovan series, reviewed below. Amongst her jobs were those of college professor and video producer. She is now retired and lives on an island off the coast of Maine.

Brigid Donovan, when we first meet her, is a 52-year-old lesbian alcholic who is struggling to stay off the drink, helped by frequent AA meetings. She had entered a convent straight from school after "I mistook my passion for Sr. Anne, our American history teacher, not for a growing pain (as her mother had hoped) but for a vocation." But after falling in love with another novice, she realised that convent life was not for her.

After doing a number of "shit jobs", she had made her reputation as an investigative journalist by publishing a book about a murder that she had been able to solve that had occured fifty years before . She is the mother of two grown-up children, twins, whose father had walked out on her. This was one of her "two stifling marriages". She has also had, and continues to have, numbers of lesbian encounters. It is she who tells the story throughout.

Murder is Relative (1990)
Murder is Relative describes how ex-alcoholic investigative jounalist Brigid Donovan is hired by matriarch Claire du Lac in Quebec, ostensibly to write a history of Maine's H.O.P.E community (an inter-faith group Helping Others, the Poor Especially). In fact, the real purpose was to investigate the death of David Thorne, Claire's son-in-law. The murdered man had also been an alcholic, just like Brigid's old friend Ed Kelly who warns Brigid to be careful of Claire as she is "as crooked as a corkscrew".

It is not long before Brigid has discovered that "Claire du Lac's son-in-law, David Thorne, had raped a young woman who, it turned out, was my landlady Nell's younger sister. Sid, the surly young man at the pump just now, was the product of that long ago act of violence. David Thorne's wife, Angele, was a drunk. And she and my buddy Ed Kelly were probably lovers." And all this by page 43. It goes on to get even more confusing. No wonder that Brigid soon thinks, "I'm in over my head." And the occurence of another murder and a bizarre disappearance do not help.

Two of the nuns who appear in this story, the young novitiate Sister Genevieve (the disturbed daughter of the dead man) and friendly, helpful Sister Pat share the unusual distinction in these books of not being lesbians, even though, we are told, Angele, when she had been only 10, had tried to seduce Pat, then aged 12. Brigid herself seems to fall in love with most of the women she meets, incuding Sister Pat. In the end, she untangles the maze of relationships in the Thorne family - but more to her satsfaction than that of the reader, for the author is not an inspired storyteller, few of the characters come alive as real people, and it all gets increasingly boring.

Murder is Germane (1991)
Murder is Germane takes place a year or so after the previous book. It tells how Brigid Donovan (still managing to keep off the alcohol) is asked to look into the disappearance of INS (US Immigration and Naturalization Service) agent Chester Brown, also known as Carlos, who had had some connection with Monte Cassino, a strange quasi-religious Maine community led by Sister Clara with whom Brigid promptly falls in love. "Anyone with half a brain could see Clara was poison. Poisonous to me as a dry martini. Unfortunately, she was just as attractive."

The search twice takes Brigid to Panama where she meets up again with Georgie, whom she had adored when they were both girls. Some explicit sex results ("the same light finger began to caress the seam of my crotch"). However, there soon follow a series of violent deaths, and Brigid herself gets attacked, but even when her car gets forced off the road and over a cliff, it remains strangely unexciting. She also manages to get kidnapped twice and here some sense of suspense is actually built up, although her lucky escapes strain the imagination.

The large number of characters, many of them lesbians, and all the sub-plots make it a very confusing read. So when at the end, for example, we are told that Alex is advised by Brigid to try sending off her manuscript called Only One Thing In This Book is True: I Never Read Thoreau to Naiad Press (the author's publisher at the time), I could not remember who Alex was. As this was the original title of a book written by the author herself which tells the same story as this one but from a different character's point of view, I suppose it's just an in-joke. But it needs more than this to hold our interest.

Murder is Material (1994)
Murder is Material tells how amateur sleuth Brigid Donovan is enlisted by a young woman, Julie, who comes complete with apparent stigmata, to look into threats against her life. She is convinced that her grandmother is out to murder her. Events escalate as Arjuna, the self-styled Buddhist guru with whom Julie lives, is murdered – tied to his bed as his house is consumed in fire. Eventually Julie finds herself and her close friend Sister Pat (just about the only female character who rejects her advances) kidnapped by an unbelievably polite old gentleman and held for ransom.

Brigid sets out to investigate, scattered clues leading her from her home in rural Maine to the craggy coast of Nova Scotia. There, she is lured on by the seductive Suzanne, who, like most of the women whom Bridget meets, turns out to be yet another lesbian: "Her lovemaking was exuberant. Like a kitten at play, she frolicked and teased. But her tongue was smooth as silk and wise as a cat with nine lives." She is one of the wealthy and powerful Compton family and, despite being Bridget's "new playmate", soon involves her too in their sinister machinations.

There are potentially lively action sequences but it is difficult to feel involved,
and the plot gets increasingly more silly, leading up to the revelation that the arch villain is a "real live Cardinal" from the Vatican who says things like, "Someone shut zis woman up","Vould someone get rid of all zeese men!" and "Zis iss intolerable. Karl! Do somesing."

I am afraid that I found all this to be a struggle to read, with its bizarre characters such as the demented Arthur who was convinced he was Jesus, and its over-reliance on its lesbian background in which, we are told, even "nuns don't need a whole lot of coaxing."




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Murder is Material cover
This is the third of the three Brigid Donovan books.
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