What I read this week:
“Death in the Choir” might be called a “Catholic cozy,” given its charming Decatur, Georgia setting and recently widowed heroine, Francesca Bibbo, who joins the choir at St. Rita’s in order to resume her social life and find romance. Lovelorn and self-conscious about her weight (even her cat is named Tubs), Francesca quickly discovers the disharmony in the group. The catty sopranos compete for solos, and the director and the pastor are at odds over purchasing a new organ to replace the old wheezing one. When the director, Randall, appoints Francesca to be his administrative assistant and then asks her out to dinner, her lonely heart goes pitter-patter - but it seems that he has been doing this with other widows in order to make a fundraising pitch for the organ. At a rehearsal party, Randall continues to ‘play the field’ yet string along the desperate Francesca. Later that night, when she drives by his house, she sees that one of the sopranos, Patricia, has parked her car there, whereupon she loses hope of winning him. Then, in the morning, Patricia phones Francesca to report that she found the director dead. The police rule the death a suicide, but plucky Francesca suspects foul play. When she digs into the records Randall put in her care and begins to pry into his past, she discovers shocking sexual secrets about Randall and other choir members that put her in grave danger. And the handsome police officer she’s been falling for may not be able to save her in time.
Lorraine Murray delivers an entertaining puzzle-mystery with a likeable protagonist who is a practicing Catholic in a realistic parish that has its flaws, just like Francesca. The book can be forgiven its conveniently unlocked doors and chance meetings for the way it builds upon an innocent search for romance and remarriage toward a mystery involving divorce and deviance. Lighthearted and ‘safe’ at first, the story turns dark and dangerous in its page-turning conclusion.
The story is respectful of Catholic Church traditions and practices, and at the same time brutally honest about the fallen natures of its members. Thankfully, the priests are portrayed as real men with their own troubles, but not bad: the weary senior pastor longs for a stiff drink and a long smoke he has been denying himself, and the upstart young associate is angular and sternly orthodox. Francesca is genuinely good, and the reader is often pulled into her conflicted, anxious thoughts and prayers as she worries about surviving widowhood and, in the end, just surviving.
Death in the Choir
By Lorraine V. Murray
Tumblar Books, 2009