SOUL MURDER – Andrew Nugent

SOUL MURDER is the third mystery featuring Superintendent Denis Lennon and Sergeant Molly Power of the Irish Police Force. Saint Isidore’s School is a top level boy’s boarding school that attracts students from countries beyond the Irish Republic. Like all schools of its kind, it is seeped in tradition and one of the most enduring, and least sensible, is the midnight barbecue. The boys from the middle school steal, beg, borrow, and buy all they need for this feast in the woods. Since it is planned by young boys barely into double digits, the planning is often less than complete.  The real purpose and joy of the barbecue is to put something over on their housemaster. “This particular barbecue was long on random shots but sadly short on intelligent design.” There were sausages but nothing to cook them in,…a wine bottle but no corkscrew. It was cold and, after convincing themselves that their gathering qualified as a traditional barbecue that honored the tradition, they quietly returned to their dormitory. The next challenge was to make it to their beds without attracting the attention of Mr. Tyson.  As the boys crept along the corridor leading to their rooms, they saw the figure of a man coming from Tyson’s quarters. “The boys flattened themselves against the wall and suspended breathing.” To their amazement, the figure goes by. Was it Tyson or was it someone else? The boys are divided but they continue to their rooms “as noiselessly as a pride of kittens.” Within minutes there is proof that the figure was not that of Maurice Tyson. He is on the floor, his throat cut.

This is the first of the crimes that will lead to a kidnapping, another murder, and a horrifying darkness that is unexpected and, therefore, more chilling. In the prologue, Andrew Nugent, the priest,writes: “What… I believe true, is that life is a slow-release miracle. accordingly, there will always be people in my novels – and especially young people – who, faced with the challenges and even the tragedies of life, grow, develop and deepen. There is another more sombre truth; in the case of some people, for the miracle to happen, it can also mean to be broken open.” I think many mystery writers write with the same view, that many of their characters are flawed and nearly destroyed but they arise like the phoenix. Lisbeth Salander is such a character and Stieg Larsson has explained this in the titles of the first two books. Lisbeth is the girl with the fire breathing dragon marking her back, the girl who played with fire to save herself.   In saving herself she is also the girl who kicked the nest of a very large hornet for the sake of others.  Redemption comes from taking the risk to save a soul,  to not stand-by while it is being slain.

Andrew Nugent is a former lawyer who is now a Benedictine monk. His writing is a joy to read. “St. Isidore’s School had recruited its fair share of weirdos over the years, in the ranks both of its student body and of its staff. Some of these…were even now, guests of the nation in various custodial institutions or homes for the bewildered.” As a former headmaster of a boys’ school, Nugent knows how shallow is the sophistication of those just leaving childhood. The conversation among the boys in the first chapter is laugh-out-loud material. One of the Irish words, “musha”, is one my mother used frequently. It is a more socially respectable synonym for a four-letter word beginning with s and ending in t. The author says that he writes more frequently about theology than murder mysteries but “they are really the same thing.”

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