(creator: Nik Morton)
|Sister Rose Louise used to be a Newcastle policewoman, Maggie Weaver, who had suffered severe trauma while uncovering a serial killer whose victims included her husband Mike. She had been nursed back to health by nuns and had (surprisingly) joined their "flexible" Order of Missionary Sisters of the Mother of Christ, an invention of the author's. After working in Peru for 18 months, ending up in charge of the isolated mission there, she is now aged 30 and is running a hostel for the homeless in London.
She had originally been trained for the police armoured resource unit, where she had earned bravery and commendation awards but had had to kill two men, and she is still a good shot and a formidable anniversary, ready to fight her way out of dangerous situations. Her Abbess tells her, “You have striven hard and long to overcome your former training" - but she seems to enjoy putting it to good use in this violent story. At one point she is (understandably) told, “You're not like any nun I've known, you're too assertive, too direct." She certainly is.
Nik Morton (who also writes as Ross Morton) is a writer and illustrator who grew up in Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear, then joined the Royal Navy, appropriately enough, as a Writer, where he stayed for 23 years. He gained an Open University degree and sold over 60 short stories. After leaving the Navy he worked in IT then subsequently retired to Spain where he still works on book reviews, articles and artwork. He is married to Jennifer, and they have a married daughter Hannah who has also moved to Spain. He has published 12 books, including Westerns, spy and adventure stories.
Pain Wears No Mask (2007)
The story gets off to a gripping start with Sister Rose being attacked by an old tramp, but "I (Sister Rose herself narrates throughout) grabbed his arm and twisted it into a painful lock and thrust him away, towards the opposite brick wall. His forehead made an unpleasant noise as it hit the brick and his legs buckled under him and he slumped against the wall." But, as dead body follows dead body. all this violence begins to pall, and we are even told that something bloody was found stuffed in a dead nun's mouth “and it was a few seconds before I realised what it was. 'Oh, my God!' I breathed. It was a penis and the hairy flaccid skin of a scrotum." And when the next corpse is found, that of the hostel porter, "It was obvious," Rose bouncily reports, "he had supplied the genitals".
All the sadistic violence reminds Rose of her last terrible case in Newcastle when the raped victims “had their clothing cut away at the front and their breasts sliced off", and she herself had been assaulted and almost died, suffering severe scars, both physical and mental. There are numerous flashbacks to describe her ordeals then, and, although they prove to have some relevance to the latest murders, they seem unnecessarily lengthy and slow down the narrative.
The present-day violence grows increasingly melodramatic, as when the current murderer, known as The Mimic because he seems to be copying what had happened earlier in Newcastle, threatens her with a knife but tells her that her time will come, “but not today, not here."
Rose gets attacked get again and again, but gives as good as she gets, having no trouble fighting off, for example, a murderous priest: after telling him that his poisons “are probably collectors' items now. You could sell them on e-Bay", she knows what to do: “My rosary lashed out at his face, dislodging his spectacles and briefly blinding him, and in that instant I grabbed his outstretched arm and engaged a good firm armlock. Awkwardly, desperately, he wrenched hard against me and shouldn't have, really. The terrible crack of bone sent shivers down my spine as I heard him yelp. There would be a great deal of forgiveness to pray for tonight, I thought, as the priest fainted at my feet." It is difficult to take it seriously - and if you don't, it just becomes violence for the sake of violence.
After Rose's initial Newcastle experiences, we are told that a psychiatrist had doubted “if she will ever regain her full sanity". But by returning to Newcastle and facing up to her past phobias, the blurb tells us that “She finds her spiritual self and a new identity. She is healed through faith and forgiveness." But there's hardly anything about such a change of heart in the text.
In fact, it seems as if it is just sheer courage and physical strength that save her, as when in an exciting escape she hurtles down a wire washing line with a young rescued girl on her shoulder, and subsequently, dives into the harbour water pulling the girl to safety. And she ends up squirting a deodorant spray full in a killer's face and stabbing his gun hand with the long straight wire cardholder from a flower arrangement. “I hadn't finished, though, and kicked the dressing room stool at his shins. He fell over and before he'd landed on the carpet I'd dashed round, stamping my bare foot squarely on his wrist. Another scream. It didn't seem as though he had suffered enough pain but it would do for now. Leaning down, I took the automatic out of his limp hand .... He was in considerable pain from the wire impaling his hand; it seems to have entered the back and come out at the bottom of his palm: there was plenty of blood. He used a handkerchief in an attempt at stemming the flow. He was angry and clearly wanted to strike out at me.“ Well, you can't blame him for being angry, can you?
The story has its moments, and it is helped along by short chapters with catchy, intriguing chapter titles like Laughter Isn't a Sin, Despise the Flesh, and Not So Bare, After All. But the flippant fighter Sister Rose does not make a very convincing nun.
|The cover effectively suggests the violence of the content.|