The Shadow of Death by Jane Willan
Jacob Traherne, sexton at St. Anselm Church in the tiny North Wales village of Pryderi, slung his wet mop across the chancel floor and thought about rugby. First tenor for the North Wales Rugby Choir, he hummed through his solo piece for that night's opening playoff between the Ospreys and the Dragons. Gripping the mop in one hand, he raised his other hand like a priest blessing the congregation and belted ou the first lines to the old Welsh hymn Cwm Rhondda.
Guide me, O my great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land.
I had a great time reading The Shadow of Death, the debut mystery by Jane Willan. The first in the Sister Agatha series, it introduces us to the nuns at Gwenafwy Abbey and to Sister Agatha, the group's librarian who is also an aspiring mystery writer. Filled with references to favored mystery authors and characters, a bit about the makings of the Abbey's cheese, Heavenly Gouda, some interesting up-to-date-ish nuns, a murder, and a Reverend Mother that shoots 'hoops' to relax, I definitely laughed a lot. In between cheese festivals and drinking tea, Sister Agatha and her old friend, Father Selwyn, manage to collect clues and solve more than one problem. I also liked the bits of philosophy scattered here and there regarding 'traditional' vs. 'contemporary' approaches to serving God and community. I did discern the solution to the murder, but I was surprised by a few things. And I look forward to the second book in the series, The Hour of Death, which will be published in early October.
I shared a table with author Jane Willan and others at the Sisters in Crime Breakfast I attended at Malice Domestic 30. She and everyone else were great breakfast companions, and I was glad to get to talk with her a bit about this book. Jane is herself an ordained minister and serves a parish church in Massachusetts.
The sisters of Gwenafwy Abbey have cherished their contemplative life—days spent in prayer, reflection, tending the Convent’s vegetable gardens and making their award-winning organic cheese, Heavenly Gouda. Life seems perfect, except for Sister Agatha, a die-hard mystery fan who despairs of ever finding any real life inspiration for her own novel. That is, until the Abbey’s sexton is found dead under an avalanche of gouda. Despite the reservations of the local constable, Sister Agatha is convinced it’s murder and the game is afoot.
Armed only with the notes she’s scribbled during her favorite podcast, How to Write a Mystery Novel, as well as a lessons learned from crime heroes ranging from Hercule Poirot to Stephanie Plum, Sister Agatha leads the nuns of Gwenafwy Abbey (and her unwitting sidekick, Father Selwyn) as they begin a race against time to resolve the death of Jacob, save the Abbey, exonerate a beloved postulate, and restore the good name of their cheese.