By JANE WILSON, Book Reviewer | Published November 12, 2009
“DEATH IN THE CHOIR” by Lorraine V. Murray. Tumblar House (Arcadia, Calif., 2009). 186 pp., $12.95.
Some mysteries are not all murder and mayhem—you will find feuding sopranos, interparish politics, and the challenges of building a new social life in “Death in the Choir,” an enjoyable new novel from Georgia Bulletin columnist Lorraine V. Murray.
“Death in the Choir” is told from the perspective of Francesca Bibbo, a woman ready to move on with her own life after the death of her husband two years earlier. In an effort to improve her social life, she has joined the choir in her local parish, but she soon gets more than she bargains for as she is caught up in the various personality clashes existing in the group. The sopranos are not just competing for solos at Christmas Mass; they are also fighting for the attention of Randall Ivy, the choir director, a man who has also shown interest in Francesca.
Meanwhile, Randall is ruffling a few feathers outside the choir as he goes up against the pastor, Father John Riley, in the hopes of getting a new organ for the church. Things get interesting when Randall turns up dead after a choir party, and Francesca has a hard time staying out of the action as secrets are revealed about her fellow parishioners. She soon believes that Randall’s apparent suicide is not as simple as it first appears.
Atlanta readers will find Murray’s locale familiar. The action takes place in and around the fictional parish of St. Rita’s, located near the very real Decatur square, and the characters are all recognizable as types you might find in any metro Atlanta parish. The characters are likeable, but they tend to remain slightly one-dimensional. The main character, for example, never shows much inner drive, and at times seems older than her years. Randall Ivy, the man at the center of the story, also remains a mystery. It is never quite understandable why Randall is such a lightning rod to so many people.
The action, however, is interesting and proceeds logically, and the mystery at the heart of the story is unexpected. One of the most compelling aspects of the novel is that it is told from a uniquely Catholic point of view. The characters have all come to the Church, each bringing his or her own experiences and beliefs. Murray uses the book to introduce several perspectives on Catholicism. Francesca, it is revealed, had grown away from the Church in her youth, but after her marriage decided to return out of the blue: “She told her friends that something—someone?—had been tugging at her, and she had given in to that strong, mysterious impulse.”
It is obvious throughout the novel that the Church has become a great comfort and a support to Francesca. She has recognized that her life is in a holding pattern, and she has turned to the Church to move forward. In practical terms, much of her life revolves around the parish of St. Rita’s. She volunteers at the church office, her friends and social life are connected to the choir, and she finds herself taking a part-time job as the assistant choir director. She also depends upon the Church in more spiritual terms as well. She consistently turns to prayer and to her own moral compass whenever she experiences stress or danger. It is refreshing to encounter a fictional heroine with a strong faith and an active relationship with her God.
For an unpredictable mystery with a hometown twist, try “Death in the Choir.” In addition to a suspenseful murder plot, you will also find a comforting back story of a woman possessed of a solid faith.
Jane Wilson, a local writer and book enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.