(creator: Alice Loweecey)
|Giulia Falcone (formerly Sister Mary Regina Coelis) had spent ten years in a Franciscan convent in Greater Pittsburgh. For eight of them she had taught in high school, her only training being “six weeks of Methods" (an experience she shared with her ex-nun author). She had a mind of her own and had spent much of her time "fighting the unchecked powers of her Superiors". So perhaps, as "sniping little Sister Mary Hezekiah said the day she turned in her habits: God was better off without her."
Aged 29, she had unsuccessfully tried waitressing and other jobs, then ten months after being released from her vows, had surprisingly found herself administrative assistant at Driscoll Investigations where, as an innocent virgin, she is soon admiring her boss Frank's “muscled six-foot-tall body". But, as the author explains elsewhere, she has "a lot more hang-ups and is more repressed than I ever was".
Alice Loweecey (who has a BA in English Literature from the Catholic University of America) is a former Franciscan nun who went from four years in the convent (which she had joined partly, she says, as an act of teenage rebellion) to playing a prostitute on stage in amateur theatre, then to accepting her husband's marriage proposal on their second date. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters of Crime, and lives with her husband and two sons in Buffalo, New York. She has tried writing religious horror, paranormal and mystery novels, but it was her mystery novel reviewed below that, after 185 rejections, led to a contract to write a series of three. She looks forward to the day when she may become a full-time writer.
Force of Habit (2011)
At one time Giulia thinks that "She'd never be good enough for someone like Frank". At another she decides to quit, telling him, "Remind me to send a sympathy card to your future wife. Unless she's Mother Teresa, she's going to need a degree in psychology to make the marriage work." And, convinced that “Frank was a pig-headed, gutter-mouthed jerk", off she goes, back to another possible suitor, a Second Violinist who plays in the same orchestra as her and Frank And does Frank eventually admit that he "was a pig-headed idiot"? Of course he does!
Giulia has a gulty conscience about all the underhand methods she has to adopt but, as part of her new role, takes karate lessons in self-defense (that are to prove a life-saver later on). It's no "cozy" story: when an attempting rapist "thrust his erect penis down her throat", she promptly bit it so that "he screamed and rolled off her"- and her subsequent police medical is also graphically described. She goes on to experience sexual advances not only from the handsome Blake but the even more interested Second Violinist Scott: it was not long before “his fingers moved against the seams of her jeans and her legs wobbled", but she decides this is not what she really wants and hurries off home, only to find that “Blake Parker lay naked on her bed, hands and feet tied to the posts on the near side like a blond Slim Jim". She had previously got involved in a role-playing game featuring a highly unconvincing super-villain called Urnu the Snake, and he reeappears in the highly melodramatic climax.
Short chapters help to make this a lively read, even if it is all told in a gossipy style that lays more stress on her burgeoning sex life (will she or won't she?) than on the actual detective work. Frank gets round to admitting, “I don't know much about God's omniscience, omnipresence, all the other omnis the priests tell us he's supposed to be .... but if I'm made in His image - I am, right? Then I'm going to risk lightning striking out of a cloudless sky and speak for Him. God still wants you. But I'm glad you divorced him, because flesh and blood men have a chance now." This time "When he kissed, her lips gave him a fragile response."
The next book will take us back to the convent and sounds rather more promising.
Back in the Habit (2012)
Giulia's reluctance to return to a scene of so much past unhappiness for her is well described ("Strip me naked, smear my body with honey, and bury me in an anthill first"), as is the everyday routine of convent life. What is much less convincing is the motley crew of unlikely nuns (including bullies, a drunkard, a drug addict, a nun who paws her way through a drawer of Giulia's underclothes, a nun who tries to smoke our evil spirits, drug-running nuns, and even a trio of 80-year-old nuns who explode their own home-made pipe bomb!), all based, the author assures us, on her friends and fellow writers! It may seem an amusing joke to them but they certainly make it an unlikely convent.
The most unlikely of all is the dreaded Sister Fabian, the Superior General, who not only uses “her personal brand of humiliation plus intimidation to bring everyone into line" but gets remarkably close to the chaplain (Guilia might be naive but “she knew what the panting and grunting coming through the crack meant"). This is the chaplain who also has lascivious eye on the novices. Not that they are all necessarily any too holy. It is one of them that likes coming if out with the expletive, “Christ on a crutch!'
The Superior General wrongly imagines she can intimidate Giulia into writing just the sort of anodyne report she wants. This leads to some lively scenes when Giulia actually stands up to her, insisting that “As a Driscoll Investigations client, you will receive a complete report when we're satisfied that we've uncovered all the facts."
There are entertaining moments and welcome flashes of humor as when Giulia who is much given to asking herself questions, pauses for a moment and promises, “And while I'm at it, I'll stop talking to myself." Instead she takes to writing down long lists of suspects - an activity that slows the action down. But even just pretending to be a nun again seems to influence Giulia's behaviour so that Frank complains, “Suddenly you're throwing around buzzwords and acting all self-righteous and better than the poor unwashed laity." But it is not really made clear exactly what it is about the apparently dreadful convent life that affects Giulia in this way. And indeed she gets into such incidents as a screaming match with an aggressive nun that suggests that any changes in her are no more than skin deep.
Even Giulia doesn't seem to take the unlikely situations in which she finds herself too seriously for when she finds herself imprisoned in a wardrobe, she just comments, “Darn, I wanted to meet Aslan." And it all goes on to lead up to an absurd climax. A pity, because it would have been so much more interesting to read about the author's own experiences as a nun, with a mystery death thrown in, but more realistic characters throughout.
|The rather dreary cover describes it as a "A Falcone & Driscoll Investigation" as it is the first of at least three books.|