The pallid fourth Sister Agatha mystery from the Thurlo husband-and-wife team (after 2006's Prey for a Miracle) piles on New Mexico smalltown color, but lacks a challenging puzzle. Agatha is an extern-authorized to interact with the outside world-for Our Lady of Hope Monastery, a small community on the cusp of financial ruin. When a drunk driver crashes his SUV into its security gate, the nuns must scramble to find the funds for repairs. Meanwhile, a hacker is disrupting the computer work the community relies upon for much of its income, and the adjacent vineyard may be sold to a developer. Salvation seems at hand when dying millionaire John Guttierez, aware of Agatha's reputation as an amateur investigator, offers her a lucrative payday if she succeeds in tracing his estranged niece. The descriptions of monastic life are compelling, but too-pat miracles and too-simple mysteries will disappoint all but the most devoted series fans. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
False Witnessby Aimée Thurlo, David Thurlo
Our Lady of Hope Monastery can't catch a break. Situated in rural New Mexico, the cloistered monastery squeaks by on donations and various craft and skilled jobs suited to their cloistered, contemplative life. But when a stolen SUV crashes through their outside walls, they are faced with financial demands that far exceed their means. So when a major donor offers a
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Our Lady of Hope Monastery can't catch a break. Situated in rural New Mexico, the cloistered monastery squeaks by on donations and various craft and skilled jobs suited to their cloistered, contemplative life. But when a stolen SUV crashes through their outside walls, they are faced with financial demands that far exceed their means. So when a major donor offers a great deal of money for what seems a simple task, they are quick to accept. The very ill John Gutierrez is looking for his estranged niece, believed to be in the area, and having heard of Sister Agatha, the extern nun, and her investigative skills, he turns to them for help. All Sister Agatha has to do is track down the woman, and the monastery's financial worries will be over.
But nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Sister Agatha's investigation quickly lands her in the midst of a deadly situation, and it's up to her to uncover the truth before it all takes a deadly turn for everyone involved.
“Fascinating…[Sister Agatha is] intelligent, deteremined, funny, and deeply religious, yet completely unstuffy, and adds both interest and appeal to this thoughtful mystery series.” Dallas Morning News on BAD FAITH
"THIEF IN RETREAT is a thoroughly absorbing, sharply drawn story with a protagonist who is courageous, intelligent, and endearing. Sister Agatha, with her restored Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and ex-police dog Pax are a dynamic team that's hard to beat... I eagerly await Sister Agatha's next adventure." Earlene Fowler, author of DELECTABLE MOUNTAINS
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By Aimée Thurlo, David Thurlo
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Aimée and David Thurlo
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It was a beautiful, sunny New Mexico morning, and Sister Agatha unlocked the parlor doors in preparation for the new day. Standing on the front step, she gazed back at Our Lady of Hope Monastery. Though it was scarcely grand, she liked to think of the reconverted adobe farmhouse with its new bell tower as God's fortress in a world increasingly determined to forget Him.
Inside, the sisters lived and prayed in quiet seclusion. That blessed stillness, almost always absent on the outside, defined their monastery and became an ever-present companion that drew them closer to the One they served.
Contrary to what some people believed, the locks on the doors and the grille that separated the cloistered sisters from the world weren't there to keep anyone in. They were a line of defense meant to keep the secular world out.
Soon Sister Bernarda, who'd asked for a few moments alone in chapel again this morning, came into the parlor. Sister Agatha hurried inside, worried about her. She could tell Sister Bernarda had been crying.
"Are you all right?" Sister Agatha asked gently.
"Of course," she answered briskly. "I'm ready to take over as portress. You have other pressing business."
As soon as Sister Bernarda took a seat behind the old oak desk, the phone rang. Externs like Sister Bernarda, Sister Agatha, and Sister de Lourdes were not bound by a vow of enclosure. They were a vital link between the monastery and the world.
Knowing her fellow extern was not ready to talk about whatever was troubling her, Sister Agatha left her to her work and hurried down the hall. When she arrived at the scriptorium, Sister de Lourdes was working at the server — the main computer.
"I'm glad you're here," Sister de Lourdes said with a grim smile. "I've done everything I know to get the computer to work right, but the hacker really messed things up for us this time."
"You'd mentioned that last night at recreation, but then the bells for Compline rang and the Great Silence began," Sister Agatha said. She'd been dying of curiosity since then, but the Great Silence couldn't be broken except in a grave emergency. "You'd said something about letters?"
Sister de Lourdes nodded. "We've received two very disturbing e-mails — one yesterday, another just a few minutes ago. They're both signed by someone named Wilder."
"First or last name?"
"I'm not sure," Sister de Lourdes answered, handing her a copy of each. "But the messages both originate locally, according to the ISP address."
Sister Agatha read the short notes. The first said, "War means casualties. I can deal Can you?" The next was just as cryptic. "I'm watching you!" Below the signature of that second note was an emoticon stick figure depicting someone looking over a wall.
"He's certainly no poet ... or artist," Sister Agatha said. "But the viruses he keeps sending are going to create major problems for us with NexCen Corporation. We've got to put a stop to this. Our work for them is about the only thing that's keeping our monastery from going completely broke right now."
"Each virus has been worse than the last," Sister de Lourdes said. "He's stepping up the game."
"We can't disappoint NexCen. There are very few jobs like this one that won't interfere with our schedule of work and prayer. Taking computer orders is something we can do at our own time. But if we keep having problems we can't fix ourselves, NexCen will think we're unreliable and turn the work to someone else."
"God won't let us lose this job. The monastery needs rewiring, and we're in a financial hole. At least the dedicated lines protect the computers. If only we could get rid of this hacker!" Sister de Lourdes said. "The NexCen representative is coming over soon — a woman. She's been given permission to come into the scriptorium to check the software and computers so we can be up and running again soon. I'll see if there's anything she could teach me so we won't have to keep calling them."
"When's she supposed to be here?" Sister Agatha asked.
"She should be arriving anytime." Hearing the clapper, a manual device that resembled castanets, Sister de Lourdes smiled. "Sister Bernarda's calling, so I bet our guest has arrived."
"I'll go," Sister Agatha said.
As she entered the parlor, Sister Agatha nodded to Sister Bernarda, who promptly introduced her to their visitor. "Sister Agatha, this is Merilee Brown, NexCen's senior computer technician."
"I prefer 'head geek,'" Merilee said with an easy smile.
The young woman, a brunette barely in her twenties, was wearing jeans and a loose-fitting green cotton sweater. She wore little or no makeup, and her hair hung loosely in a pageboy style that brushed the top of her shoulders.
"I'll escort you to our scriptorium," Sister Agatha said. "Please remain silent while we're walking through the cloister. Once we're inside the scriptorium and the door is closed, you can speak freely."
Merilee gave Sister Agatha an uneasy, wide-eyed look and nodded. "Okay. Got it."
Sister Agatha gave her a sympathetic smile. "Silence makes continual prayer easier."
Merilee nodded somberly. "I understand."
Sister Agatha led the way and, after they'd both entered the scriptorium, closed the door. "May I get you something to drink? We have coffee, but I personally recommend the tea. It's our own special blend."
Merilee shook her head, her gaze already on the computer screen. "Thanks, but no, I'm eager to get started. Your problem intrigued me."
Sister de Lourdes introduced herself. "The second I hit a key, I got a blue screen and a message in a gray box telling me to hit alt, control, and delete all at once, and restart. But when I did that, it just repeated the cycle all over again."
"Let me give it a try," Merilee said.
Sister Agatha and Sister de Lourdes watched as she repeated the process, then sat back and stared at the blue screen
and error message. "Either your startup files are corrupted or you've got a virus. I can get around this with a special boot disk, but debugging might take some time," she said slowly, reaching into a small briefcase and bringing out a set of CDs. "If that doesn't work, I may have to reinstall all the software, including your operating system. That means you're going to lose everything that's stored on your hard drive, so I suggest you back up all of your data files once I find a way around this error message."
Once Merilee got into the system with the emergency boot disk, the two nuns worked quickly and efficiently, selecting every data file and then saving it to a separate DVD. Within a half hour they were done. Then, just as Merilee took their place at the keyboard, the lights in the room began to flicker.
"Do you have battery backups in place?" Merilee asked, her gaze never leaving the screen.
"Yes," Sister Agatha said. "Power to the computers is maintained even if we have a blackout." Just as she spoke, the lights came back up. "Ah there, it's all back to normal," she said with a lot more confidence than she actually felt.
As Merilee began to work, Sister Agatha left her in Sister de Lourdes' care and hurried down the hall. She had a meeting with Reverend Mother this morning. On her way she saw Sister Bernarda in the hallway inspecting the wall outlets.
"Did the lights flicker in the parlor, too?" Sister Agatha asked, quickly joining her.
"Yes," Sister Bernarda answered. "This goes to prove what the electrician said — our main electrical panel is overloaded. I decided to check for overheated outlets."
"I'd intended on asking NexCen for an advance. But with all the problems we're having making our deadlines because of this hacker, now's just not a good time," Sister Agatha said. "I left Sister de Lourdes with Merilee, and I'm on my way to talk to Reverend Mother. Are you okay here?"
"Yes, but would you give Mother a message for me?" Seeing Sister Agatha nod, she continued. "My father was an electrician, and I learned quite a bit from him. I could do the rewiring at the outlets and the light fixtures myself, adding the pigtails and connectors needed to connect aluminum to copper. A licensed electrician would still have to sign off on my work, but maybe Bobby Fiorino will give us a reduced rate if I do the bulk of the work," she said. "Ask Reverend Mother what she thinks."
Sister Agatha hurried down the hall to Reverend Mother's office, then knocked on the open door. "Praised be Jesus Christ," Sister Agatha said.
"Now and forever," Reverend Mother answered. "Come in, child." Reverend Mother called all of the sisters "child" according to their monastic custom. As prioress, she considered them all her spiritual children.
Sister Agatha sat down on the wooden chair across from the desk.
"The lights have been flickering again," Reverend Mother said with a sigh.
Sister Agatha recounted the conversation she'd had with Sister Bernarda about the electrical work.
Reverend Mother nodded. "That's a good idea. Go ahead and speak to Mr. Fiorino and let me know as soon as possible if he agrees." Reverend Mother paused, then continued. "That NexCen contract is turning out to be a blessing for us. I never realized how crucial that income would become. That, God willing, will pay for the monastery's repairs."
Sister Agatha started to tell her about the latest problems in the scriptorium, then changed her mind. It was being handled, and she knew that there was something else on Reverend Mother's mind. That was why she'd originally been called to this meeting.
"The winery next door has been put up for sale by its owner, John Gutierrez," Reverend Mother said at last. "The Archbishop called this morning to tell me himself. He'd heard that the buyer interested in the property wants to put up apartments or townhomes there. He contacted Mr. Gutierrez on our behalf, hoping to convince the man to give us some kind of buffer zone so we can maintain our privacy ... and silence."
"The name sounds familiar. John Gutierrez ... hasn't he donated funds to us in the past?" Sister Agatha asked.
Reverend Mother nodded. "Yes, and he's consented to meet with one of our externs to discuss the issue. I'd like you to go. I'll have the time and place for you later today."
Sister Agatha left Reverend Mother's office with a heavy heart. Between the wiring, their finances, the hacker, and now this, it felt as if their monastery was under siege ... and maybe it was.
Fortunately, the rest of the day proved to be less stressful and, except for a few more power fluctuations, the work in the scriptorium proceeded in a timely manner.
After Compline, the last liturgical hour of the day, the Great Silence began. Sister Agatha had remained with Sister Bernarda in the small chapel, kneeling near the altar in private prayer. Sister Bernarda had been troubled about something all week. Knowing her prayerful support was needed, Sister Agatha stayed with her sister in Christ. Attending to the needs of another was at the heart of the second most important commandment — to love thy neighbor as thyself.
Although she'd come with the best of intentions, as time passed, Sister Agatha had to force herself to stay awake. Duty was paramount, yet the stillness in the monastery after Compline was absolute, and it made remaining alert a monumental challenge.
Sister Agatha took a deep breath. Although she had no idea what was bothering Sister Bernarda, God did, and He'd know how to fix things. Better to pray this way — without knowing. But she would make one plea — Blessed Lord, dont let me fail her and you by falling asleep during my watch.
Suddenly a thunderous crash shook the entire building. For a moment, the possibility that she'd received an instant answer to her prayer left Sister Agatha dumbstruck. Then she heard the ragged rhythm of a car motor somewhere close by and saw a light shining through one of the back windows of the chapel.
There'd been an accident. Sister Agatha jumped to her feet and hurried toward the door, Sister Bernarda a few steps behind her. Almost immediately Sister Agatha detected the smell of motor oil. In the glare of a bright light, she saw a cloud of dust around the twisted metal and adobe bricks that had comprised the monastery's wall and gates. In the haze, jammed into the ruined barrier, was a big sports utility vehicle, one of its headlights still working.
"We need to help whoever's inside," Sister Bernarda said, hoisting her long skirt and sprinting toward the vehicle.
Sister Agatha saw the SUV's driver's side door burst open. A tall, shadowed figure in a hooded sweatshirt jumped out of the vehicle. Shielding his eyes with his forearm, he ran away from them, quickly disappearing into the dark beyond the scene of the crash.
"Did you get a look at his face?" Sister Agatha asked, catching up to Sister Bernarda.
"No, but don't worry about that now. We need to see if there's a passenger," Sister Bernarda said, racing around to the open door and checking inside.
A moment later she eased back out of the SUV, shaking her head. "There's no passenger, but there are a bunch of empty beer cans scattered on the floor," she said disgustedly. "The emergency airbag was set off, but I didn't see any blood anywhere, so the driver probably wasn't badly injured."
"I'll call the police," Sister Agatha said. "Maybe you should switch off the ignition and light in case there's a fuel leak."
Sister Agatha hurried back inside the monastery's parlor. Although she was sure that the cloistered sisters had been awakened by the crash and would be worried, the Great Silence made its own demands. She couldn't exactly run around making an announcement now.
Wondering how to handle the situation, she walked quickly through the chapel. Then, at the entrance to the corridor, she found Pax, the monastery's large white German shepherd dog, pacing nervously back and forth. Although alerted by the noise, Pax had learned not to go into the chapel or make any sounds after Compline.
Pax stayed with her as she hurried to the parlor and dialed the county sheriff's office. Since there weren't any victims at the scene, the desk sergeant warned her that it would be at least twenty minutes before a unit would respond. She wasn't surprised. The sheriff's department had been forced toimplement new budget cuts and was chronically understaffed these days.
Sister Agatha grabbed a flashlight from the desk drawer. She was about to go back outside when she heard a light rap on the grille that separated the cloister from the monastery's front parlor.
Reverend Mother was standing there, silently waiting for an explanation. After living with her for more than a decade, Sister Agatha could almost hear the thoughts that reverberated behind Reverend Mother's silences as easily as she could her spoken words.
"A big passenger vehicle crashed through the front gates, Mother," Sister Agatha whispered. The Great Silence could be broken in case of emergencies, and informing Reverend Mother of the crisis at hand was not only justified, it was imperative. "We think the driver was drinking, but he's run off. Fortunately, there were no passengers. I called the sheriff's department and now I'm going to join Sister Bernarda outside to wait for an officer to arrive."
Reverend Mother nodded. "Benedicemus Domino," she said, praising God before breaking Silence. "Will you be able to close the gates once the car is removed?" she asked softly.
"No, Mother, the gates are in pieces. But I'll make sure Pax has free run of the grounds tonight, and I'll sleep in the parlor until everything's fixed. He'll bark if he sees a stranger, and I'll be able to hear him clearly from here. We'll be safe."
With a nod, Reverend Mother slipped away into the cloister as silently as she'd come. Their alpargates, ropesoled sandals, made almost no sound on the brick floors.
Sister Agatha flipped on the floodlights that illuminated the gate area and parking lot, then hurried back outside to join Sister Bernarda, Pax at her side.
"Twenty minutes," she told Sister Bernarda, who understood without further explanation. "Reverend Mother's been told."
"The driver won't get away. They'll track him down easily enough from the registration."
"Unless the SUV was stolen," Sister Agatha replied. Using the flashlight, she moved farther down the road, beyond the gravel, examining the footprints the driver had left in the dirt.
"I think we had a visit from Bigfoot," Sister Agatha said, pointing.
Sister Bernarda glanced down and nodded. "Drunken Bigfoot."
"But he didn't run like someone who was that drunk. ... He never staggered or stumbled as he raced out of here," Sister Agatha said, recalling what she'd seen.
Excerpted from False Witness by Aimée Thurlo, David Thurlo. Copyright © 2007 Aimée and David Thurlo. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“Charming...Sister Agatha, with her winsome ways and no-nonsense faith, is sure to delight readers.”—Publishers Weekly
“As do the best mysteries, [False Witness] uncovers an unfamiliar world…that you can’t help but want to visit again.”—Santa Fe New Mexican
Meet the Author
AIMEE AND DAVID THURLO are the authors of numerous books, including the Ella Clah mysteries, and three previous novels featuring Sister Agatha. They live in Corrales, New Mexico.
Aimée Thurlo is co-author of the Ella Clah series, the Lee Nez series of Navajo vampire mysteries, and the Sister Agatha novels. Her other works, co-written with her husband, David, include Plant Them Deep, a novel featuring Rose Destea, the mother of Ella Clah, and The Spirit Line, a young adult novel. Aimée, a native of Cuba, lived in the US for many years. She died in 2014.
David Thurlo, is co-author of the Ella Clah series, the Lee Nez series of Navajo vampire mysteries, and the Sister Agatha novels. His other works, co-written with his wife Aimée, include Plant Them Deep, a novel featuring Rose Destea, the mother of Ella Clah, and The Spirit Line, a young adult novel.
David was raised on the Navajo Reservation and taught school there until his recent retirement. He lives in Corrales, New Mexico, and often makes appearances at area bookstores.
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The series just keeps getting better with each book. Sister Agatha is one fine detective/Nun.
Excellent---I will get the rest of series as soon as possible!
False Witness Aimee & David Thurlo St. Martin¿s, Oct 2007, $25.95, 261 pp. ISBN: 9780312322120 In the Our Lady Of Hope Monastery resides a community of nuns bound by a vow of enclosure which means they have nothing to do with the outside world. Three extern nuns who are not bound by enclosure are the spokeswomen for the monastery and have dealings of all kind with the outside world. Sister Agatha is one of those and her ability to get donations has saved the monastery from going broke on more than one occasion. They are currently in a financial bind, having won a bid on a computer contract they are plagued by a hacker who wants them shut down. Their electrical wiring needs fixing before the place burns down and someone crashes through the gate that keeps them secure in their own private world. They don¿t have the money to pay for repairs but a monastery patron who plans to sell the vineyards that border on the nun¿s home and bring civilization to their doorsteps makes a deal with them. If Sister Agatha finds and reconciles him with his niece before he dies of cancer who is in hiding after testifying at the trial of a killer and land fraud scammer he will give her the money to fix up the monastery and create a buffer zone between the nun¿s home and the property he wishes to sell. When something sounds too good to be true it really is. --- The latest Sister Agatha mystery is an exciting who-done it that gives a glimpse into the workings of a cloistered monastery that must be financially self-sufficient. Aimee & David Thurlo captures the prescience and serenity as well out the tenseness of community that exists behind the walls of the monastery. There are several layers to the mystery each one getting closer to the truth but it takes a while to peel away each layer to the core that reveals the killer. FALSE MYSTERY is truly a well crafted mystery. --- Harriet Klausner