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Scorched Grace: A Sister Holiday Mystery


Scorched Grace: A Sister Holiday Mystery

Having spent 12 years of my early education in Catholic school, I can honestly say that I met some curious nuns: those who loved soap operas and fell asleep while we quietly translated Cicero and snuck off to watch Yankees games at lunch, those who had been part of the freedom movements of the ’60s, and those who had joined the nunnery after getting married and having children.

But I never encountered anyone as unique and street-wise as the protagonist of Margot Douaihy’s debut crime novel, the first book published under the banner of Gillian Flynn’s own imprint. Sister Holiday has tattoos, was in a punk rock band and sneaks the cigarettes that she takes from her young students. SCORCHED GRACE is a total gas.

"SCORCHED GRACE has the energy of a runaway freight car and the somber reflection of the search for inner light. It is a magnificently fun and compelling drama..."

Fleeing Brooklyn after some bad behavior, Sister Holiday ends up in New Orleans, a new member of the Order of the Sisters of the Sublime Blood. Her life as a would-be rock star makes her the perfect choice to be a music teacher at Saint Sebastian’s, the local Catholic school. But after seeing the maintenance man fall out of the upstairs window of a burning wing of the school, she decides that, having already rescued two students stuck in the fire, she will save Saint Sebastian’s from an arson spree. Sister Holiday has a real head for investigation, and as she gets closer to who or what may have done the damage, she must face the dark shadow of her former self and not succumb to her past bad habits (sorry, but that pun was necessary).

The story begins in a hot and mosquito-y New Orleans that puts everyone in a contrary mood but is described so deftly that readers will feel like they’re living next door. Everything that Sister Holiday employs to reach a conclusion about these attacks could have been found in any other well-paced novel. But the combination of her fresh and dangerous character and her need to make up for her sins gives SCORCHED GRACE a heroine that helps the book ascend the usual mystery tropes.

There is poetry in Douaihy’s descriptions, and the voices of the nuns and other N’awlins denizens are crisp and distinctive. The gruff, rough, first-person narration makes the reader Sister Holiday’s wingman; her thoughts are relayed to us as each moment ticks by. The story has edge and gives us a lot to consider when it comes to the more profound ideas of her newfound religiousness. As the energetic plot moves forward, SCORCHED GRACE makes Sister Holiday into a Sherlock Holmes-type thinker, giving her a chance to wrestle with both the difficult climb of solving the crime and the internal heat of her own demons. This is the work of a bright new author who understands how to update a tired genre.

From the first page to the last, Douaihy’s crackerjack sleuth and the imaginative, eccentric surroundings of Sister Holiday’s supporting cast will grab readers and not let go. There is so much power in this woman’s story, and the circumstances surrounding her own personal struggle give an extra boost to the fast and furious plot. Even the quasi-sisterhood of the nuns provides yet another anchor in entertainment that is hard to find in other genre tales like this.

SCORCHED GRACE has the energy of a runaway freight car and the somber reflection of the search for inner light. It is a magnificently fun and compelling drama that will go back on your TBR pile for another trip as soon as it’s first read. I can’t wait to see what other awesome writers Gillian Flynn finds next.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on March 31, 2023

Scorched Grace: A Sister Holiday Mystery
by Margot Douaihy

  • Publication Date: January 16, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Gillian Flynn Books
  • ISBN-10: 1638930988
  • ISBN-13: 9781638930983