Olivia Matthews Sister Lou

(creator: Olivia Matthews)

Sister Louise "Lou" LaSalle lives with 63 other Sisters in the Motherhouse of the Congregation of St. Hermione of Ephesus in Briar Coast, New York, whose average age "had to be somewhere between 70 and 80". She is a sister not a nun. The difference, we are told, is that nuns are cloistered, while sisters are not. She is described as "petite and fit. Her dark brown hair was woven through with silver strands styled in the simple chin-length bob. Her big dark eyes were patient and kind". She was just 5ft 4in tall and 63 years old but still starts each day with a 5 mile run.

She had a PhD in philosophy and 6 years before had come to teach philosophy at the college that was founded by the congregation. She subsequently left the post to serve full-time on the congregation's leadership team. She has a beloved nephew, Christian (Chris) LaSalle, who is the college's "acting vice president for advancement", and keeps her informed of the college's latest news and events. She is nothing if not pragmatic and determined, so, when she's embarked on an investigation, she lets nothing get in her way.

Olivia Matthews is the pseudonym of romantic novelist Patricia Sargeant who also writes romance novels under the name of Regina Hart. Raised in New York City, she was awarded a BA in Journalism from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She has worked for financial institutions, health care companies and universities and written for newspapers, magazines, corporate communication departments, advertising agencies, marketing and public relations departments. She now lives in Ohio with her husband.

Mayhem and Mass was her first attempt at a cozy mystery. Her Sister Lou character was inspired by a real sister of the Dominican Sisters of Peace whom Sargeant met when the two of them worked at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus. She said that one of her main inspirations for writing the book was to dispel the stereotypes she sees in media portrayals of Catholic women.

Mayhem and Mass (2017)
Mayhem and Mass tells how Sister Lou had expected some resistance when she had invited her old friend Mo (Dr. Maurice Jordan), to be the guest speaker for the St. Hermione of Ephesus Feast Day presentation. The theology professor was known far and wide for his controversial views. What she ís not prepared for is finding him dead in his hotel room, "face down on the bloodstained carpet." No wonder "her muscles were weighted with dread. Her body shook with ice-cold fear" for "someone had bashed in the back of his head".

When the local deputies focus on the members of her congregation as suspects, Sister Lou takes matters into her own hands and she teams up not only with Chris who, we are frequently told, has "a great memory", but with Shari, a local reporter (who has amazingly been told by her editor not to pursue the story at all) to delve into Maurice's life. Together or separately they confront every possible suspect, often at great length, and demand to be told where they were at the time of the murder! Meanwhile we are treated to totally unnecessary descriptions of food ("Shari had the sense that people in Briar Coast love their pastries"), clothing (Chris had "left behind his suit and tie .... Instead, he seemed relaxed and approachable in a bronze pullover and black jeans"), and even furniture ("The matching sofa, love seat, and armchair were sky blue, accented with vibrant jewel-tone throw pillows and bold, abstract afghans").

Of course, everything turns out all right in the end: Chris changes his initially hostile ideas about Shari (making him decide that "he'd have to pay closer attention to the line between friendship and romance"), and she gets the job she always wanted - even if in a thoroughly unconvincing way.

It is all too cozy for words, but the real problem of the book is its slow pace, coupled with a total lack of excitement and very little humor. Sister Lou herself seems to belong to the world of romantic fiction as when we are told that "a cloud of sadness passed over Sister Lou's heart-shaped face" and she's a great one for rolling her eyes. She has little to say about her beliefs beyond rather cornily reassuring Shari that "You may not believe in God, but He believes in you". But she can get angry: " Sister Lou's muscles shook with anger. Her ears buzzed and her pulse raced. She didn't want to be rational. She wanted to punch a wall, kick a tire, have Kevin Appleby taken into custody and ensure he never saw the light of day. Ever. Again." But after receiving a death threat, she realises, "We'll need to be careful."

It all gets rather tedious with one unlikely event following another, as when Lou manages to get hold of the coroner's report before even the police have seen it. And it even ends with an Agatha Christie type meeting in which all the suspects (and even the hostile police deputies) assemble and Lou interrogates one after another, revealing a whole series of guilty secrets. Eventually she reveals the murderer whose face had "contorted into an ugly mask of jealousy" and it was "Justice. At last." It had taken a long time coming.

Alibis and Angels
Alibis and Angels is the 3rd book in the series and describes how, with the Lenten season fast approaching, Opal Lorrie, the mayor's director of finance, was found lying in a parking lot with a broken neck. The sheriff's deputies call the apparent slip-and-fall a freak accident. But Opal was driving her boss's car and wearing her boss's red wool coat. Mayor Heather Stanley has been receiving threatening letters and is clearly the real target. Offering her sanctuary could put the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Hermione of Ephesus at risk, but how can Sister Lou turn her back on a neighbor in need, even though she regards the mayor as "arrogant, bordering on condescending; abrasive, bordering on rude; authoritative, bordering on bossy."

Aided by her loyal sleuthing partners, her well-connected nephew Chris and reporter Shari Henson (who has troubles of her own with an interfering rookie journalist), Sister Lou must confront the mayor's myriad detractors during this critical election year and unmask an unrepentant killer who has everyone fooled - including for nearly all the story, Sister Lou herself.

It is another very slow-moving cozy gossipy mystery with a lot of emphasis on what participants are wearing or eating, and little in the way of dramatic action. Sister Lou seems to be largely untroubled by any other duties so can spend all the time she wants on lengthy, often tedious, interviews with possible suspects. The mayor employs an unlikely all-female team of senior officers, but even more unlikely is her refusal to involve the police until page 294 out of 344. It's a book I found a struggle to read so I am afraid that I shall not be reviewing any future books in this series.

The author has her own website and there is an interview with her on Cilla's Book Maniacs site.

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


Mayhem & Mass cover
The cover is as cozy as the content.The cat was a designer's bright idea and does not even appear in the story!
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