Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Crimes and Misdemeanors

I think I'm back in one of my detective novel phases. Brother Cadfael, McGurk, and Sherlock Holmes were my good buddies in middle school. Lately, I've rediscovered the Sister Mary Helen mysteries by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie.

These breezy stories feature a semi-retired San Francisco nun with a knack for assisting two Irish homicide cops in their investigations. Re-reading them after a year with the Daughters, I'm amazed at how much I can recognize in Sister Mary Helen's lifestyle. I also suspect that royalties from the novels fund the author's real work at a drop-inn center for homeless women. Sister Carol Anne writes about the world she knows, and makes you feel like you live there. Fun fact: she is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who were founded in - you guessed it - St. Louis.

While I was living in St. Louis, I got hooked on another set of female sleuth novels. Elaine Viets has penned two series about St. Louis detectives. Reporter Francesca Vierling and mystery-shopper single mom Josie Marcus are both no-nonsense girls from South St. Louis. You can bet that at some point in their novels, they will make a crack at residents of wealthy STL neighborhoods, and then go eat pork steak or fried ravioli. Theirs is the midwest where my parents grew up - you chat with your neighbors on their well-manicured rectangular lawns, and the kids all walk past mom-and-pop businesses on their way to school. It's a world I don't inhabit, but appreciate. Through her funny writing and her detective's investigations, Viets takes readers on a tour of STL zip codes and landmarks. Some of the information can sound dated, but overall it's a fun picture of a great city.

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