A DEATH AT ST. ANSELM'S by lsabelle Holland


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Though there's a murder-mystery outline here, Holland's new novel spends most of its time in the drab, troubled company of narrator Claire Aldington--an ""ordained therapist"" and clergy assistant at a posh Episcopalian church in upper Manhattan. Her activist-clergyman husband Patrick was killed in a car accident some years back; Claire, 35, has raised both her own little son and her motherless stepdaughter Martha--who's now a surly teen-victim of anorexia nervosa. She spends much of her time arguing with the church's ultra-liberal rector (a tedious cartoon) or, on the other hand, with conservative Brett Cunningham, the church's former business manager. (Did Claire really believe in hubby Patrick's Ivy League radicalism? Or did she just go along?) Then the church's current business manager--fat, paraplegic Dick Grism--is found murdered. Whodunit? One of the homeless poor-folk who are allowed to stay in the church at night? So think the cops--until they choose Claire as top suspect: several witnesses thought they saw her near the murder scene. But Claire knows that it was the increasingly flaky Martha who was really seen (wearing Claire's trademark hat). Thus, while Martha flees to stay with her rich grandmother, Claire wonders what link her stepdaughter might have had with the murdered man. (Could it connect with the cause of her anorexia?) And finally there's a cumbersome finale--bringing secrets from Claire's past to the surface, a psychobabble cure for Martha, romance with Brett (whose daughter died of anorexia). . . and a corny showdown between Claire and the totally implausible psycho-culprit. (""Call the police. . . tell them I'm going to my apartment to meet the murderer . . . ."") Amateurish as a mystery, clumsy as clinical-psych-suspense--with dreadfully stiff dialogue and none of the gothic flair Holland has shown in some of her previous thrillers.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday