Murder at the Monks' Table: A Sister Mary Helen Mysteryby Carol Anne O'Marie
Sister Mary Helen is in luck, depending on how you look at it. She and Sister Eileen are in Ireland to attend the weeklong Oyster Festival in the little village of Ballyclarin. They make their first stop at a central oasis of food and drink called the Monks' Table. Mary Helen overhears a woman saying to the man with her, "I am surprised someone hasn't killed you… See more details below
Sister Mary Helen is in luck, depending on how you look at it. She and Sister Eileen are in Ireland to attend the weeklong Oyster Festival in the little village of Ballyclarin. They make their first stop at a central oasis of food and drink called the Monks' Table. Mary Helen overhears a woman saying to the man with her, "I am surprised someone hasn't killed you already." But Eileen assures her that it's only a way of speaking, and Mary Helen is relieved---until the next night, when she finds the same man in the pub's ladies' room, murdered.
Mary Helen's reputation for sleuthing follows her across the Atlantic, and the Irish police warn her not to get involved. She has every intention of leaving this case in the hands of the authorities, but sometimes Fate will just not listen to reason.
Fans of this delightful nun, a detective in spite of herself, will be certain to enjoy accompanying her on this latest trip, the eleventh entry in this continuingly popular series.
Read an Excerpt
Friday, August 29
"May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be ever at your back."
The long black hearse came speeding out of the driveway, nearly careening into the hackney. Don't tell me this is going to be one of those days, Sister Mary Helen thought, grabbing the car door handle.
"Cheeky, get!" she heard the driver mumble. Then, realizing that she might have overheard, he added a quick "Sorry, Sister," turning full around to check her reaction.
"Maybe he's late," she said, wishing the driver would keep his eyes on the road, especially since he was driving on the opposite side, which, of course, wasn't the opposite side here in Ireland.
Ireland, she thought, closing her eyes and wondering if she were dreaming. Her eyelids felt sandy. Why wouldn't they? It was four o'clock in the morning, San Francisco time. And she'd had little sleep since her friend, Sister Eileen, had called less than a week ago, inviting her to come.
"Late for his own funeral!" The driver laughed. "That's a good one, Sister. But if you want to know what I think, I think it is one of his boyos on his way to pick up the pearl of the festivities, the Oyster Queen. Her da owns the funeral parlor. Probably why they chose her," he said, "comes with her own grand car."
The Oyster Festival! Until last week Mary Helen had never heard of the event, but then Eileen had called with the sad news that her sister Molly, whom she had gone to County Galway, Ireland, to nurse through her final illness, had died. Eileen's nieces and nephews were so grateful for her help that they insisted on treating their aunt to a holiday before she returned to her convent in San Francisco. The Oyster Festival was in County Galway, so why not attend that? As an added surprise, they had purchased a ticket so that her good friend, Sister Mary Helen, could join her.
"What about my work at the homeless center?" Mary Helen had asked when Eileen called with the invitation.
"Glory be to God, old dear, you're a volunteer! If the truth be told, you are actually retired. What's the point of being retired if you can't go off once in a while for a little fun?" Eileen asked, and then added as if it were news, "Life is short."
Mary Helen's recent brushes with murder had, if anything, made it clear to her just how short a life can be. So here she was.
Looking out the car window, she watched the green fields and stone fences slipping by. Enormous clouds blew across the bright sky.
Both Sister Anne, whom she helped at the homeless center, and Sister Patricia, the president of Mount St. Francis College, where she lived, were delighted that she had the opportunity to go. Too delighted, in Mary Helen's opinion, but there was no sense getting into that. After nearly sixty years in the convent, she had learned that there were some things you were better off ignoring.
"We'll be there in no time," the hackney driver called out.
Paul. That was his name, Mary Helen remembered. Paul Glynn. He had introduced himself at the Shannon airport where he had met her, holding a big sign with her name neatly printed on it.
"No hurry, Paul," she answered, closing her eyes again as he passed the hearse.
When she had first spotted him, he had reminded her of pictures she'd seen of the young James Joyce---slight, with straight black hair and rimless glasses on a thin face. Just add a patch on the left eye and a mustache . . .
"Only another thirty or so miles," Paul said, whizzing past a stretch of cars, "and we'll be in Ballyclarin."
Ballyclarin, located on the Clarin River, Mary Helen had discovered on the Internet, was home of the Oyster Festival. In fact, the village slogan was, "The world is your oyster and Ballyclarin is its home."
It seemed that Paul, a distant cousin of Sister Eileen's niece by marriage, had been recruited to be their driver. And zipping along the narrow roads, past signs that warned "loose chippings," and around the roundabouts, Mary Helen was becoming more and more grateful that neither Eileen nor she would be at the wheel.
According to Paul, the family had rented a small mews in the village where the nuns were to stay and enjoy the weeklong festivities. For festival events as well as for any side trips, he was at their service.
Slowing down, Paul entered the village and Mary Helen spotted her friend immediately. Eileen stood in front of an impressive Georgian house, smiling and waving.
After a few hugs and several pats on the back, the two old friends studied one another at arm's length.
"You look none the worse for wear," Mary Helen said.
"Nor you, old dear," Eileen returned. "And we probably both need our glasses changed."
Quickly Paul brought Sister Mary Helen's suitcase into the small, cozy mews in the back of the house, then handed Eileen a card with his name and phone number on it. "Ring when you need me," he said and slipped away, leaving the two old friends to catch up.
And there was a lot of catching up to do. Eileen fixed them each a cup of tea and they settled on the sofa. Mary Helen leaned forward and patted her friend's hand. "I know how hard these last two years must have been for you," she said. "You and Molly were always in my thoughts and prayers."
Eileen's gray eyes suddenly filled with tears. Quietly she began to talk about her sister's death and how difficult it is to suffer with someone you love. Mary Helen listened, knowing that was all she could do, as Eileen poured out her grief and pain.
A long streak of dying sun shot across the carpet of the mews when Eileen finally checked her wristwatch. "You must be exhausted," she said, wiping her eye. "Do you know what time it is?"
"Don't even go there," Mary Helen said. All she knew was that her head was beginning to ache and that she could scarcely keep her eyelids up.
"Let's pop next door to the Monks' Table for a bite to eat and then it's to bed with you."
"Pop where?" Mary Helen wasn't sure she'd heard correctly.
"The Monks' Table." Eileen smiled. "It's a pub-restaurant and has delicious homemade soup."
Once inside, Mary Helen followed Eileen through a jumble of small, dark rooms and alcoves, past signs cautioning patrons to "Mind Your Step." The only things, in her opinion, that faintly resembled a monk's anything were the high-back benches where the diners were seated. Conceivably they could be recycled choir stalls. Was that why it was called the Monks' Table?
"Is soup enough?" Eileen asked once they were seated in a small room.
"Plenty," Mary Helen said, wondering if she'd even stay awake to finish that.
"Let me tell the waitress, so she doesn't fuss with all the silverware," Eileen excused herself.
Leaning her head back against the bench, Mary Helen closed her eyes. The room was quiet. Only one other couple was near by. They were seated at the table behind the nuns.
Mary Helen had noticed the pair while the two nuns were being seated. The woman was small and wiry with chestnut brown hair, courtesy no doubt, of Lady Clairol. The man, on the other hand, was big-boned and ran to fat. A tuft of gray hair formed a ring around his bald pate. Must be husband and wife, Mary Helen had thought when she'd seen them.
The woman, whose voice was high and whiney, was obviously complaining about something. Although between her brogue and her whispering, Mary Helen had no idea about what. Then without warning, her words came through loud and strident. "I am surprised someone hasn't killed you already," she said.
Mary Helen's eyes shot open.
"What is it?" Eileen asked, sliding onto her bench.
"Behind us," Mary Helen whispered. "I just overhead the woman say that she was surprised that someone hadn't killed that man already."
Eileen leaned forward. "She was probably joking," she whispered.
"It didn't sound like it."
"You are a little oversensitive to murder," Eileen said. "Not that I blame you," she added quickly, "what with the bad luck you've had stumbling into them. But this is Ireland. There are only about fifty murders a year in the entire country with a population of 5.8 million. What are the odds of one happening in Ballyclarin?"
"About as good as winning the lottery," Mary Helen conceded, adjusting her bifocals, which had slipped down the bridge of her nose.
"Right," Eileen said as the waitress put down two bowls of steaming hot chowder and a basket of fresh, warm soda bread.
"Now eat up, old dear," she said. "Tomorrow we have a big day.
Copyright © 2006 by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie
Meet the Author
Sister Carol Anne O'Marie has been a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet for more than fifty years. She ministers to homeless women at a daytime drop-in center in downtown Oakland, California, which she cofounded in 1990.
SISTER CAROL ANNE O'MARIE (1933-2009) was a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet for the fifty years. She ministered to homeless women at a daytime drop-in center in downtown Oakland, California, which she co-founded in 1990. She wrote eleven novels featuring Sister Mary Helen.
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