Francesca Bibbo

(creator: Lorraine V Murray)

Lorraine V Murray
Francesca Bibbo, when we first meet her, was a 38-year-old widow. Her husband had been killed in an accident two years before (they had been married for just over 15 years) so she had joined the church choir because "she was ready to start dating ... and the choir seemed as likely a place as any to meet a man."

She "was only five foot three, and had to diet furiously to keep the extra pounds at bay .... She'd inherited her olive complexion and molasses- brown hair and eyes from her parents, who had died when she was in her 20s. Her father's family had originated in Sicily, and her mother's in Naples. She had also inherited a longish, decidedly Italian-style nose, the bane of her existence. Her husband, Dean, had thought her nose was cute, but in her estimation it was too prominent."

She had met her husband at the University of Florida where she had majored in philosophy with a minor in psychology. Just like the author, she had been brought up a Roman Catholic but lost her faith at University then later subsequently surprised everybody by returning to the church.

Again, like the author, she had given up a job at the university ("Quitting her job had given her as much joy as she imagined Lazarus surely experienced when he was called back from the grave") and now spent some time as a volunteer answering phones in St Rita's Rectory or visiting elderly shut-ins, and had a garden and a cat to look after. When trouble struck, her inquisitive nature made her a determined, if not always too shrewd, investigator.

Dr Lorraine V(iscardi) Murray (1940s - ) was born in New York and grew up in Miami where she graduated from Immaculata Academy High School. She was awarded a bachelor's degree in English at the University of Florida in 1968 and a Doctorate in Philosophy fourteen years later, and taught both subjects in college for many years. She became a radical feminist atheist for over 20 years before returning to Catholicism in her 40s, as described in her book Confessions of an Ex-Feminist. She gave up teaching to become a freelance writer and went on to write a number of other religious books and two mystery novels which are reviewed below. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her husband and pet hamster.

Death in the Choir (2009)
Death in the Choir tells how
Francesca Bibbo is eager to jump-start her social life, so joins the choir at St. Rita's Roman Catholic Church in Decatur, Georgia. There, she discovers that the director and the pastor are locking horns over a decrepit organ, while the sopranos are vying for solos. After a rehearsal party, things go very wrong, and when someone is found dead, the police rule the death a suicide. But Francesca suspects foul play, so she begins prying into the dead man's past. Before long, she uncovers shocking and sinister facts about other choir members. Soon she has other problems too, including a threatening phone call spoken in a voice "dripping with venom."

The main emphasis throughout is on the men who may or may not prove to be suitable partners for Francesca. First there is Randall Ivy, the choir director, a lively character who fumes at less than perfect choristers and whose "yellow green eyes reminded her of a cat (she likes cats so that was a good sign). In her estimation, he was very handsome. Rumor had it that he was also gay, but Francesco wasn't so sure. But her own cat, Tubs took against him and "shrank back, his fur puffing out ominously" (a bad sign indeed). But when he invites her to become his choir assistant, she is happy to agree. Tabs then "lunged for Randall's ankle, took a quick nip, and then withdrew into the corner of the room." But Francesca doesn't take the hint. After all, he (Randall, not the cat) "had the nicest yellow green eyes" - and dimples. She fondly imagines "the two of them, wrapped in a delicious embrace; the two of them, standing before the altar to take their vows." It's a pity that she later finds Randall is taking another choir member out to dinner (one who can't sing and yet has been offered a solo part!) and it turns out later that he's got even more guilty secrets than that.

Then there's Investigator Tony Viscardi from the local police department who has "sexy eyes" and "strong-looking hands with a light sprinkling of fur on the fingers. Quite masculine." When he takes out to dinner, she is quick to notice "there was no tell-tale white mark like you might expect on the finger of a man who removed his wedding band for the evening .... When he touched her hand, a shock of surprising energy jilted through her .... Then he gave her hand a gentle squeeze and her heart began racing," and a nagging little voice inside her whispered: he's handsome, sexy, and he's employed, which means he's too good to be true."

There's also Thomas White, a tenor from the choir. He too invites her out for dinner and, as she later confides to her cat Tabs, "I think we are on a roll here." There follows a remarkable sequence of events in which poor Francisca is only saved from rape by the next-door dog! Eventually the police arrive. "Tony," she says, "I hate to sound like someone in a soap opera, but I mean this sincerely. How can I ever thank you for coming to my rescue like that?"

It all seems incredibly cozy, but the author can write with some humor as when she describes the gossip-hungry "choir chicks" and the problems of Father John who had discovered that "women who would never have given him a second glance when he was a layman now found him attractive beyond belief. And there seemed to be some unspoken rule that spurred some women to hug and kiss priests until the poor men were driven to distraction. These same women, who'd never have dreamt of revealing the intimate details of their sex lives to, say, their medical doctor or even their best friend, also felt compelled to unload themselves to him in the confessional." Even so, it seems rather a strange light-weight book for this particular author to have written.

Death of a Liturgist (2010)
Death of a Liturgist gets off to a promising start when Francesca Bibbo is confronted by three black women who demand, "Good morning! Have you been saved?" Francesca was "a Roman Catholic, who faithfully attended Mass, received the Sacraments, and tried to love her fellow man – even the ones who rang her doorbell at nine on Friday morning. Does that count as being saved?" The three women weren't impressed but one of them handed over "a small copy of the New Testament. 'This is the word of God, sugar.' She spoke slowly, as if addressing someone who didn't understand English." So Francisco dutifully promises to look in on their church "if I get a chance". But soon she has other things to worry about as a new priest, Father Bunt, is taking over her own church, and he decides to appoint a liturgist to lessen his load.

It is a congregation that likes things on the traditional side: old-fashioned hymns from the choir and no-nonsense preaching from the priests, pious devotions in the chapel and warm pastries in the rectory kitchen. But that is not how Chip Cambio, the new liturgist sees things. He is determined to bring the parish up-to-date, to get more people to participate, to make the Mass more appealing to the tastes of modern Catholics. The way to do this, he was sure, was to "to 'get the spirit moving' by offering teen Masses, more 'upbeat' music, cantors at every Mass, and maybe some liturgical dances for important occasions like Holy Week and Easter." And when it came to arranging the nativity play he "added Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the Care Bears" with "little boys having a chance to play the role of Mary, and little girls playing Joseph. This way, they get the important message .... It's a time when people of all nationalities, ages, religions, gender preferences, and races come together in the spirit of peace and fun."
"And all these years I thought the message of Christmas had to do with God becoming man. I wasn't aware that
gender preferences have anything to do with it." said Sister Therese.

So all he did was make enemies, and Father Bunt soon has other reasons for wishing that he had bothered to check his references more carefully. So when Chip turned up dead under violent and mysterious circumstances, everyone was a suspect. Francisca Bibbo joins her boy friend Detective Tony Viscardi and Sister Therese (not to mention Ignatius the hamster who makes the most significant contribution all), to set about solving the mystery, although Visconti tells her, "Don't start playing detective, okay? You know how dangerous that can be, right?"
She replies, "It's just in my nature to wonder. I mean, I have trouble just sitting back and letting things unfold. I seem to have this .... I don't know what to call it ... urge, I guess .... to investigate." And so she does.

It makes an engaging and, at first at least, a rather more credible story than that of the first book, and is written by an author who really can write. The characters ranging from the embarrassed Father Bunt to the appalling Chip Cambio really come to life, and the church background is particularly well handled. It makes an enjoyable read.

The author has her own website and there is an interview with her about her personal beliefs on the Catholic Culture suite.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


Death in the Choir cover
The cover looks rather too cozy, as is the plot.
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