Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Local Author Continues Church Mystery Series

By JANE WILSON, Book Reviewer | Published December 9, 2010

“DEATH OF A LITURGIST” by Lorraine V. Murray. Saint Benedict Press (Charlotte, N.C., 2010). 224 pp., $11.95.

“Death of a Liturgist,” the most recent novel by Georgia Bulletin columnist Lorraine V. Murray, is an entertaining mystery that mixes death and mayhem with the politics of a typical suburban Georgia parish.

The novel takes up where 2009’s “Death in the Choir” left off, in the fictional parish of St. Rita’s, set in the author’s hometown of Decatur, Georgia. We catch up with church volunteer Francesca Bibbo, who again finds herself at the center of a mystery. The widowed Francesca’s social life revolves around the church – she volunteers in the rectory, she is a member of the choir, and most of her friends are fellow parishioners. This time around, Francesca is exploring her budding relationship with detective Tony Viscardi, also introduced in the “Death in the Choir” investigation.

As the novel opens, the parish of St. Rita’s is undergoing an upheaval. A new pastor has been assigned to take the place of Father John Riley, and the new priest, Father Brent Bunt, brings in a liturgist, Chip Cambio, to help run things. Although Father Bunt means well, he is overwhelmed by his new duties and gives Chip too much freedom to shake things up in the parish. Chip’s ideas to modernize the parish do not sit well with the traditional St. Rita’s crowd, who prefer classic hymns, silent prayer and standard crucifixes to liturgical dances, cantors and “stations of the earth.” When Chip is found dead, there is no shortage of suspects among the lively cast of characters at St. Rita’s.

Murray seems to be hitting her stride with the writing of “Death of a Liturgist”; the action and the characters are drawn more confidently than in “Death in the Choir.” From Maria, the rectory housekeeper who is not intimidated by anything (except a little mouse) to gentle Father William with his pet hamster Ignatius to the dynamic Sister Therese, the supporting characters each provide a welcome twist in the mystery. Even Dopey the dog makes an interesting addition to the proceedings. Unfortunately, among these characters, Francesca herself remains a bit of a cipher—although she is depicted as a thoughtful and decent woman, she seems too reserved to be the driving force behind a murder mystery.

Like the previous novel, “Death of a Liturgist” is interesting for its Catholic point of view. In addition to a logical and lively mystery, the book presents a discussion of the changing nature of Catholic traditions. When Chip Cambio institutes his reforms to the parish, the characters debate their merits. As the traditional parishioners of St. Rita’s resist Chip’s ideas for modernization, the discussion reinforces how much the characters care about the church and what an important role it plays in their lives. Each one shows a touching dedication to God, the Catholic Church and the parish of St. Rita’s. Even as they disagree with the changes being made, they keep in perspective, as Tony says, “who … is on the altar.”

Readers also get a taste of diocesan politics. As St. Rita’s becomes the site of a mysterious death, Archbishop MacPherson takes an interest. As a friend of Father Bunt’s father, he exerts some pressure on the younger man, and this dynamic gives us a greater understanding of the priest’s character.

As the mystery unwinds, readers learn that Chip has been keeping a few too many secrets. When these secrets come to light, Francesca finds herself in more trouble than she bargained for, and the secret of Chip’s death is resolved in a most unexpected way.

“Death of a Liturgist” is another solid offering from Lorraine Murray. With a hometown setting and a mystery that relies on faith for its resolution, it’s a reliable read with some inspiring characters.

Jane Wilson, a local writer and movie enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.