The Absence of Goodness
Date Published: January 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 382
Print Price: $13.95
eBook Price: $7.96
The Absence of Goodness is a page-turner crime novel written by Catholic Isaac Morris. The solving of an awful crime propels the plot, as does the conversion of its main character, a nun, who seeks the killer. It is a mystery that takes the unique approach of a nun as its main character and detective. The mystery genre has been peopled with priest and monk detectives in the past and I found a nun in the main role refreshing and modern as well as faithfully Catholic. The story reveals many layers as the mystery unfolds and although not perfectly written, is comparable to most popular mysteries, with the added advantage of a solid Catholic perspective.
The book introduces us to Sister Margaret Donovan, a novice Dominican sister teaching at a high school, but who previously worked as a detective for the local sheriff’s department. She is straightforward, honest, and kind with an obvious gift for theology and working with students. As the story flashes back to her life before taking the veil, however, we discover someone who was living a life very far from holiness. Her affair with a married coworker ends in tragedy when he is shot while on duty and her life falls into a downward spiral before she finds hope in the faith given to her as a child. As the book progresses, Margaret displays deep compassion and faith as well as determination in finding a murderer. She does make some damaging choices that bring realism to the character and the life of a religious. It can be argued that these choices make the character more realistic, but also possibly out of character for a woman who has given five years of her life to the Church and is close to taking her final vows. I found that although Margaret is not yet a perfect nun, she gives an adequate example of the difficulty and day-to-day sacrifices that are needed to live a life of holiness in today’s society. Margaret’s journey to her final decision whether or not to take her final vows takes place while she helps solve the terrible crimes occurring within her school. Although I was skeptical at the beginning of the book as to how the author would treat a nun as a main character I found myself pleasantly surprised overall to find a realistic character free from both candy-coating and liberal ideology.
Margaret is called back into service for the sheriff’s department after a student of her high school is found murdered. She is assigned to work alongside an arrogant yet ruggedly handsome detective and the two begin doing solid police work while forming a flirtatious relationship. Another murder occurs while connections to past crimes are discovered and Margaret begins to try to find the common threads which could lead them to the murderer. The plot weaves in and out of different suspects at a good pace while depicting realistic characters. Most of the characters are well drawn, however the character of Bill Templeton, Margaret’s partner, seems a little thin and one-dimensional. The narrative itself changes its focus among different characters, which layers the plot effectively while building suspense. Although definitely not as hard to guess the murderer as in an Agatha Christie novel, the plot does has several twists and the end result was fairly satisfying.
The Absence of Goodness is a serious crime novel even though its main character is a nun. Graphic crimes are depicted, foul language is found throughout, and some sex scenes occur. I found the crime descriptions fairly realistic and disturbing, which I’m sure was the author’s intent and which lends credibility to the book itself as a crime novel. However, plain bad writing is found in the sex scenes, which sometimes made me cringe in the sheer lewdness. Some critical editing would have greatly helped the book as a whole and may possibly have saved us more than one painfully awkward intimate moment.
The value of a crime novel being written by a Catholic is the theological basis with which crime and its consequences are seen. Many times throughout The Absence of Goodness the relationship between sin, crime, and its results is presented. But alongside of the darkness of crime hope in faith is also seen which is seldom present in today’s crime fiction. The detective turned nun, Margaret, makes a good main character and I would look forward to a series based on her cases. Catholics who enjoy crime novels would be satisfied, and even refreshed with The Absence of Goodness.
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.8 inches
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