Taking the Veil

James Friel, Author St. Martin's Press $17.95 (316p) ISBN 978-0-312-03941-7
When aged Ursula Trench is accidentally burned to death, her subsequent secret burial in the private garden of the Cenacle of the Lancashire Martyrs raises a storm of protest in the local press--as well it should. Though a lay sister in the later half of her life, Ursula (an apparent schizophrenic) was a murderess so celebrated as to be included in Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors. Was she, in the end, a multiple murderess--or a saint? The supporting cast of this gruesome thriller-without-a-hero includes an embittered defrocked priest whom the murderess had exposed for homosexuality; fellow prisoners who swear she has worked miracles; an incestuous parent; and any number of truly grotesque caricatures of the clergy--gabby, overfed nuns, alcoholic priests, a mother superior with low tastes in furniture and flower arrangement. Clumsy and unfocused point-of-view narrative and few sympathetic characters make this sensational first novel a challenge to enjoy; the plot, compelling to begin with, ends as a simple and unsatisfying whodunit. In addition, the author's distaste for Catholicism may offend some readers. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1990
Release date: 01/01/1990
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