Thursday, January 21

Thief in Retreat - Aimée and David Thurlo

Sister Agatha, investigative reporter and journalism professor turned extern nun, has been sent by her Archbishop to the nearby New Mexican town of Bernalillo. Some year earlier the diocese closed a monastery and sold it to a respectful couple, who run it as a retreat. The diocese left several piece of artwork on loan, artwork that has value both as collector's pieces and a religious symbols for the church and the town. The grounds are also said to be haunted by the restless ghost of an unhappy woman, who has apparently been playing tricks - taking art work and random belongings from their usual homes and leaving them in odd places. That's been going on for a while, but recently Retreat owner Ernie Luna and his wife Ginny realised that the artwork they've found are clever replicas of the originals.
Under the pretext of catalogue crates of belongings and records from the site's time as a monastery, Agatha and her faithful former police of Pax have been sent to uncover the person or persons behind the thefts. She also hopes to discover why a local college's curator, Professor Lockhart, has vanished, and what happened to the pieces he had with him when he was last seen - his empty car was found abandoned not far from The Retreat.
As well as the alleged ghost, the need to keep her real mission a secret, and the confronting nature of the work - as the monastery became less and less self-sufficient the records become increasing dire, causing Agatha to compare it with the possible fate of her convent - the intrepid nun must negotiate around the inquisitive writers currently at a writing workshop on site, the presence of her long-ago boyfriend and local sheriff Tom, and a very territorial local sheriff who wants nothing to do with Agatha or her investigation.
This sequel to Bad Faith has all the elements of its predecessor - Agatha's faith and the tapestry of her cloistered life are woven into the fabric of her routine, and this is contrasted with the laypeople around her. This time she has an easier, less strained relationship with Tom and, to an extent, his rather jealous wife, aided by their mutual investigation.
The secondary story of the writers' group speaks of experience, and the petulant would-be author Charlee, convinced of the brilliance of her huge, and missing, first novel had a particular ring of truth. It also caused me my only moment of disconnect from the narrative - she is distraught at the loss of the manuscript, wildly accusing the other writers en masse of theft, and declaring at one point that a copy is with her solicitors and can be produced should anyone seek to publish her work under their name. The way she acts makes it initially appear as through the missing manuscript was her only copy, which in 2004 (when the book was published) seems unlikely - who doesn't create at least one backup? And when we learn she does have a copy her over-the-top melodrama seems even more excessive. This is to some extent explained in the text as attention-seeking, but I was not wholly convinced.
As for the rest, however, was very pleased. I suspect too much Agatha would be a mistake but hope to dole out installments from time to time over the yer ahead - Alex

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