Nuns and Severed Limbs … A Religious-Historical Murder Mystery: Book Review of “A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary” by Donna Fletcher Crow

newly-crimsoned-reliquary (1)Donna Fletcher Crow’s A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary is the fourth installment of ‘The Monastery Murders’ series. You can read an interview with the author here. I selected this title from the Book Club Reading List.

Summary

The Monastery Murders series center on the characters of Felicity Howard and Father Antony. Felicity is an American citizen studying at the Anglo-Catholic College of the Transfiguration in Yorkshire. Antony is a church history lecturer at the College of the Transfiguration. He and his estranged older sister Gwena became orphans when he was ten and she was fourteen. They were taken in by an aunt and uncle in Blackpool.

The action in The Newly Crimsoned Reliquary starts about three months prior to the wedding of Felicity and Antony. saintFelicity heads to an Oxford convent to translate an early Medieval Latin document on the life of St Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford. Antony plans to join her soon to deliver a series of lectures for his seminar titled “God in Oxford”. However as soon as Felicity arrives at the convent a series of chilling events unfolds. First dismembered body parts suddenly appear in ancient holy reliquaries. Reliquary-Shrine-of-St.-Amandus-1250-1275Felicity discovers that a relic has been replaced by a severed human hand at the celebratory patronal festival in honor of St Frideswide at Christ Church:

“Sister.” Her voice was raspy with the effort of controlling the scream she felt rising in her throat. “Say a prayer and send the people away.” Dorcas stared at her openmouthed. “Do it!” She repeated. “That’s no relic, no matter how well preserved. That hand is fresh.”

Another relic has been replaced by an amputated human foot at the Ashmolean Museum. Then there is the mysterious disappearance of Monica, the Mother Superior, assaults on Felicity and a nun, and a fire even breaks out at the convent. Antony experiences professional loss when one of his students is found dead. It might just be that there is a connection between the Latin document Felicity is translating and the repeated series of attacks.
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Evaluation

The Newly Crimsoned Reliquary is expertly written. Most impressive is Fletcher Crow’s interweaving of the past and present with vividly detailed descriptions of historical events and current life in Oxford.

At the corner of Cornmarket and High Street she paused at Carfax Tower, which marked the center of Oxford. 18941953.019955c6.240Carfax was the Roman designation for crossroads, and surely this was the busiest intersection in the city. She glanced up at the clock on the tower that was all that remained of St. Martin’s, which had once been the official church of the city for civic events. Ah, just a few minutes until noon. She would wait and hear the Quarter Boys strike the hour before she went on. The two Romanesque figures stood with their hammers at the ready below the motto Fortes est Veritas: The Truth is Strong.

Fletcher Crow provides a rich picture of religious culture and history. Some readers might get a bit impatient with the amount of religious detail or worry that it interferes with the story. However the careful detail is perfectly appropriate given the subject matter of religion practices from past to present-day and adds complexity to the story. There are thoughtful reflections on the role of religion in society today. Philosophical issues even emerge as Antony is called in at the last minute to debate the existence of God at the Secular Atheist Student Society.

After all, how did one prove the existence of God? His field was church history. He knew the classic approaches: the ontological argument, the first cause argument, the argument from design, and the moral argument. A full university course at the least. Better, a lifetime of study and thinking. How to present that in a limited time to a hostile audience?

Despite some of the more grisly details the personal element to the story is not lost. The romance between Felicity and Antony continues to flourish. Felicity becomes friends with Antony’s actress sister Gwena after she unknowingly sees her performance in a theatrical play at the Oxford Playhouse. Antony deals with family problems such as his uncle’s declining health and reconciling with his relationship with Gwena.

Conclusion

I highly recommend The Newly Crimsoned Reliquary to anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery. Although this is the fourth book in a series, the story stands alone. One does not feel the need to have read the previous books to understand the plot although it is extremely likely that they will want to go ahead and read them.


A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary (The Monastery Murders #4) by Donna Fletcher Crow (2014).
229 Pages.
Greenbrier Book Company, LLC
Purchase it at Book Club Reading List here
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Comments

  1. Angela, thank you so much for the wonderful, careful review! I love the pictures you chose to illustrate my story. It is such a joy to an author when a reader really gets what they are trying to say! And I do love Oxford, just reading your review put me back there again.

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