Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy

There's a new mystery series in town! Scorched Grace (2023), by Margot Douaihy, is the first of the Sister Holiday Mysteries; it also happens to be the first novel published by Gillian Flynn Books. Gillian Flynn, as you may recall, is the author of Gone Girl, along with other twisty mystery thrillers. I admire Flynn's writing, so I wanted to see what she could do as an editor too.

From the get-go to the very end of Scorched Grace, the tropes of the hard-boiled detective novel are evident (think: Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Robert B. Parker’s Spenser). You've got your gruff, yet at times philosophical, first-person narrator, world weary and imperfect, whip-smart and hard-working, always willing to fight the system. You've got your murky underworld setting, harrowing twists and turns, complicated secondary characters, and red herrings galore.

Clearly, Margot Douaihy knows and respects classic detective mysteries. With Sister Holiday, however, Douaihy has chosen to extend and transform the genre by centering the action around tattooed, queer punk rocker–turned–music teacher Sister Holiday, the only chain-smoking nun of the Sisters of the Sublime Blood in New Orleans.

Plot summary, please? Here you go: when Sister Holiday witnesses a fire in the convent-based school that kills a fellow employee and injures two students, she puts her sleuthing skills to the test to find out who set the fire. Local authorities have reason to believe Sister Holiday may be the culprit. When another nun ends up dead and a school bus catches fire, Sister Holiday must prove her own innocence while keeping an eye on other suspects.

Scorched Grace revolves around a crime and Sister Holiday's quest to solve it, but it also explores faith, transgression, and forgiveness, the role of women in religion, specifically Catholicism, systematic oppression, the weight of memory and loss, healing and recovery. As Sister Holiday strives to solve the mysteries that surround her, she also works to solve the mystery of herself. In this way, as distinctive as this young nun may appear at first glance, isn't she ultimately like all of us?

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Karen S