Another sleuthing triumph for San Francisco’s elderly Sister Mary Helen of Mount Saint Francis College and her Irish best friend Sister Eileen (Death of An Angel, 1997, etc.). The murder victim this time is Monsignor Joseph Higgins, pastor of St. Agatha’s—a suavely elegant man with a taste for the finer things, now found dead of poison after a meeting of the parish council. Sisters Mary Helen and Eileen, delivering a loaf of homemade Irish soda bread to the rectory in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, were invited by the Monsignor to join the council meeting for tea and were appalled by the tension- charged atmosphere at the table as tea and the hacked-up soda bread were handed round by surly housekeeper Eveleen Glynn. The other participants—retired professor Nicholas Komsky; alcoholic George Jenkin; bejeweled Tina Rodiman; weepy Debbie Stevens; recent widower and council treasurer Fred Davis, and parish administrator Sister Noreen—all make clear their scorn and hatred for the Monsignor, who was accused at the time of his death of using church funds for his own self-indulgence. Getting to the bottom of things takes a couple of replays of the meeting, orchestrated by Inspector Dennis Gallagher with partner Kate Murphy and accompanied by his usual bitter complaints about Sister Mary Helen’s attempts to help. But help she does—eventually arriving at the crucial clue to the killer. Clumsily plotted and largely unsuspenseful but enlivened by its series of incisive character studies—and sure to please the Sister’s legion of fans. . . . L¢pez-Ortega, Antonio MOONLIT: Stories Trans. by Nathan Budoff Lumen/Brookline (224 pp.) $15.95 paperback original Aug. 1, 1998 ISBN: 1-57129-057-5 A mosaic portrait of contemporary Venezuela emerges with seductive intensity, if only imperfect clarity from this first collection of 61 variously related vignettes and meditations, many scarcely a page in length. The long first section, entitled “Moonlit,” gathers “stories” that seemingly re-imagine in different forms an unnamed family’s experiences (particularly vacations and miscellaneous excursions) and traumas (the abduction, perhaps death, of a wife; the dangers to which young siblings are exposed; a failed artist’s suicidal fantasies). The briefer “Futures and Other Times” assembles more general images of annihilation and apocalypse; and a concluding section (“Extremes”) juxtaposes the family’s stories against such real events as the horrendous murder of a three-year-old by two Liverpool preadolescents. One admires Ortega’s concision and mastery of tone, but the opacity and redundancy also prominent in these accomplished miniatures discourages us from fully entering their dark, disintegrating world.