O'Marie, Carol Anne 1933-

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O'MARIE, Carol Anne 1933-

(Sister Carol Anne O'Marie)

PERSONAL: Born August 28, 1933, in San Francisco, CA; daughter of John Edward (a water department superintendent) and Caroline Valentine (a homemaker; maiden name, Bassetti) O'Marie. Ethnicity: "Irish-Italian." Education: Mount St. Mary's College, B.A., 1960, M.A.T., 1973. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Catholic.

ADDRESSES: Home—1520 E. 15th St., Oakland, CA 94606. Agent—Dominick Abel, 498 W. 82nd St. #113, New York, NY 10024.

CAREER: Entered Order of Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, 1954. Worked as elementary school teacher and, occasionally, principal in California and Arizona, 1954-74; Sacramento Herald, associate editor, 1974-78; Carondelet High School, Concord, CA, development director, 1978-88; San Francisco Catholic, associate editor, 1985-86; A Friendly Place Drop-In Center for Homeless Women, cofounder, 1990—. Worked variously as a charity worker.

MEMBER: National Society of Fund Raisers, Sisters in Crime.


mystery novels; under name sister carol anne o'marie; "sister mary helen" series

A Novena for Murder, Scribner (New York, NY), 1984.

Advent of Dying, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1986.

The Missing Madonna, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.

Murder in Ordinary Time, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1991.

Murder Makes a Pilgrimage, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.

Death Goes on Retreat, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995.

Death of an Angel, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Death Takes Up a Collection, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Requiem at the Refuge, Thomas Dunne (New York, NY), 2000.

The Corporal Works of Murder, Thomas Dunne (New York, NY), 2002.

Also contributor, under name Sister Carol Anne O'Marie, to periodicals. Manuscript collection held at Mt. St. Mary's College, Los Angeles, CA.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Murder at the Monks' Table, a "Sister Mary Helen" mystery.

SIDELIGHTS: Carol Anne O'Marie is a Roman Catholic nun who has candidly related her roots as a writer in various interviews. As an enthusiast of mystery novels, she was inspired to produce her own work after enrolling in a creative writing workshop. Counseled to write about what she knew, O'Marie merged her vocational and avocational interests in writing mysteries that featured a sleuthing nun, Sister Mary Helen, fashioned after O'Marie's former principal and superior of the same name. "She is one of those salt-of-the-Earth types; you immediately like her," O'Marie told the Chicago Tribune of the actual Sister Mary Helen. "She's a selfless lady and very supportive. She has not done any sleuthing but she would be very capable of it." Writing in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, Mary Jean De-Marr claimed, "Sister Carol Anne O'Marie successfully merges elements of several crime fiction traditions. Her detective, an elderly nun, combines characteristics of Father Brown and Miss Marple, and her vocation and age, along with her penchant for reading murder mysteries, are her primary distinguishing qualities."

In her essay, DeMarr summarized the "Sister Mary Helen" series: "The San Francisco settings are particularly well conveyed….The Roman Catholic post-Vatican II world and customs form an important part of the backdrop to the mysteries…. Religious themes are effectively handled, through Mary Helen's thoughts and behavior and through the depiction of a variety of characters with widely differing attitudes toward Roman Catholic practice and belief…. Plot ting is sometimes clumsy and transparent—though improving as the series proceeds. The novels are appealing for their setting, their characterizations, and especially their use of religious background, presented with authenticity and with good humor." According to DeMarr, "The mysteries tend to move back and forth between the nuns and the police officers, so that there are elements of both the amateur detective genre and of the police procedural."

O'Marie began her literary career with A Novena for Murder. Her heroine, Sister Mary Helen, arrives at Mount St. Francis College for Women, near San Francisco, and prepares to settle into a routine when she unexpectedly finds herself trying to solve a murder. A Publishers Weekly critic called A Novena for Murder a "refreshingly different whodunit," that is "original, suspenseful, piquantly humorous." Other reviewers also offered warm words for this debut novel. "Everything in this book is as it should be," critiqued Best Sellers' Njegos M. Petrovic, "excitement, murder—although the pace of the action is a little slower than usual … one finds quotations throughout … [from] classic writers, which add spice and humor to the situation."

After the publication of A Novena for Murder, O'Marie published several other mysteries featuring the sleuthing sister. In Murder in Ordinary Time, Sister Mary Helen searches for the culprit in the case of a poisoned television reporter. The author's "unsensational and warmhearted portrayal of convent, family, and police life, tied into a tidy mystery with modern trappings, makes for a satisfying read," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Sister Mary Helen investigates a murder in a famous Spanish cathedral in Murder Makes a Pilgrimage. In Death Goes on Retreat, she and her sidekick, Sister Eileen, investigate the death of a man on a religious retreat. Sister Mary Helen discovers that the deceased was the cook's assistant's boyfriend, a former activist seminarian. According to a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, "Sister Mary Helen's gentle insights inform this story about age-old prejudices with a quiet wisdom." Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan referred to Death Goes on Retreat as "another delightful installment in this breezy and entertaining series of mysteries."

In Death of an Angel, Sister Mary Helen embarks on a chase to find a serial rapist and murderer. O'Marie weaves together three subplots that intertwine to reach one final conclusion. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly praised the book's "sophisticated plotting" and "compelling characters." Booklist's Ilene Cooper noted that the novel goes "beyond the level of a simple whodunit." Following Death of an Angel, O'Marie wrote Death Takes Up a Collection, a novel about the death of the poisoned Monsignor Joseph P. Higgins, a pastor at a local church. According to K. W. Becker on the Mystery Reader Web site, this novel "offers very little physical action, instead describing the inner turmoils and thought processes of the main suspects."

Upon her retirement from the college staff in Requiem at the Refuge, Sister Mary Helen volunteers at a local women's refuge, where she finds herself involved in yet another murder mystery. After discovering the corpse of a murdered prostitute, Sister Mary Helen volunteers her investigative services to the San Francisco Police Department, as they search for the killer. Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan noted that in Requiem at the Refuge, O'Marie provides readers with "another first-rate installment in an unfailingly entertaining series," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer observed, "Mary Helen unravels the mess with her usual insight and sturdy independence."

O'Marie's The Corporal Works of Murder follows Sister Mary Helen as she searches for the person who shot and killed an undercover police officer outside the women's shelter where she volunteers. Margaret Flanagan of Booklist termed the book "another suspenseful whodunit," while a Kirkus Reviews critic opined, "The largely predictable adventure … is enlivened by interesting local color and softened by a mellowed Sister Mary Helen." No matter the mystery, O'Marie pens interesting novels that deal with, according to BookBrowser reviewer Harriet Klausner, "some major social issues" and O'Marie "gets her point across without preaching."

O'Marie once told CA: "As the only Roman Catholic nun still in the convent writing fiction that gives glimpses of convent life, I feel my work has a ring of authenticity that cannot be found in most other works of fiction dealing with nuns and bits of convent business." Writing, she noted in a Chicago Tribune profile, "gives me a vehicle for explaining my values in life and some of the gospel to a larger and more diverse audience."



St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Best Sellers, July, 1984, pp. 134-135.

Booklist, November 15, 1995, Margaret Flanagan, review of Death Goes on Retreat, p. 537; December 15, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of Death of an Angel, p. 713; August, 1998, review of Death Takes Up a Collection, p. 1976; May 15, 1999, audio book review of Death Takes Up a Collection, p. 1712; March 1, 2000, Margaret Flanagan, review of Requiem at the Refuge, p. 1198; October 1, 2001, Joyce Saricks, review of Death Takes Up a Collection, p. 343; August, 2002, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Corporal Works of Murder, p. 1933.

Chicago Tribune, October 4, 1987.

Drood Review of Mystery, January, 2001, review of Advent of Dying, p. 22.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), December 13, 1986.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1998, review of Death Takes Up a Collection, p. 1001; May 1, 2002, review of The Corporal Works of Murder, p. 621.

Library Journal, March 15, 1999, Kristen L. Smith, review of Death Takes Up a Collection, p. 129; December, 2000, Kristen L. Smith, review of Murder Makes a Pilgrimage, p. 214.

Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1984.

National Catholic Reporter, February 9, 1990, William C. Graham, review of The Missing Madonna, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, March 9, 1984, p. 100; October 14, 1988, review of The Missing Madonna, p. 50; August 16, 1991, review of Murder in Ordinary Time, p. 50; September 20, 1993, review of Murder Makes a Pilgrimage, p. 65; September 25, 1995, review of Death Goes on Retreat, p. 46; November 4, 1996, review of Death of an Angel, p. 66; July 20, 1998, review of Death Takes Up a Collection, p. 212; February 28, 2000, review of Requiem at the Refuge, p. 65.


BookBrowser, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (January 25, 2000), Harriet Klausner, review of Requiem at the Refuge; (June 22, 2002), Harriet Klausner, review of The Corporal Works of Murder.

Mystery Reader Web site, http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (November 22, 2002), Jennifer Monahan Winberry, review of Requiem at the Refuge; K. W. Becker, review of Death Takes Up a Collection.

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