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Reading Literature in the Light of Faith

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Put on the Armor of Light, on St. Patrick’s Day and every day

Illustration from Slate.com

As this article from Slate acknowledges, very few concrete facts about Ireland’s patron saint have survived. Much that we think we know is merely legend. Keeping that in mind, did you ever wonder why Saint Patrick is credited with expelling snakes (not wolves, not badgers, not even demons) from the Emerald Isle?

I’m not going to dispute whether holy Padraic literally chased serpentine creatures from Ireland, but you have to admit that on a symbolic level the story is apt. Serpents have a long history in Christian iconography, representing the deceptions of the devil. As an early missionary to the island, the fifth-century monk we know as St Patrick was successful in converting many from their pagan superstitions, and for more than a millennium Ireland was known as one of the most thoroughly Catholic lands upon Earth. Since pagan gods have long been regarded as being inspired by fallen angels, who presented themselves as deities, there could be no more appropriate legend about the Christian monk who persuaded the Irish people to abandon their old beliefs and turn to the One True God, than to have him expel the snakes from Ireland.

Ireland, alas, seems determined to put its Catholic heritage behind it. This article on the site of the Irish broadcasting company, RTE, for instance, seems bent on debunking the idea that there ever were snakes in Ireland for Patrick to expel. It doesn’t really matter, though, whether there were any serpentine species native to the island of Ireland, since the legend’s power is in the spiritual truth it seeks to convey, rather than literal fact.

St Patrick stood for truth, shedding abroad in the ignorance of pagan hearts the Light of Christ. And today, despite the coming of a new spring, sometimes lately it seems that the world is getting a bit darker every day. When that happens, it’s time to put on the armor of light! For Saint Patrick’s Day, take a look at this old post, wherein you will find the wonderful prayer known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate: Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Now Arm Yourselves!

If you’re already familiar with the hymn based on that prayer, you might like this very different musical rendition of the ancient prayer by that name:

©2016 Lisa A. Nicholas

Please leave your thoughts or comments below!

Homer’s Tardis: Literature is the best kind of time machine

Classics Illustrated cover: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

One of my favorite kinds of speculative fiction is the time travel tale, not the H. G. Wells sort of thing that takes you into a distant, purely speculative future, but the kind that takes a modern person and sends him (or her) into the past. The earliest piece of time travel literature that I can recall reading was an Classics Illustrated version of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which I read probably at age ten or eleven. (I had already been introduced to King Arthur several years earlier, through a Golden Book storybook based on Disney’s The Sword in the Stone.)

Imagining past lives

Time travel stories allow us to visit the past in our imagination, but we are always conscious that we are visitors, outsiders — and therein lies the limitation of the genre. It is always more interested in commenting on (or even passing judgment on) the past, rather than showing it to us as it had been lived. When I was reading A Connecticut Yankee, I was more interested in the world Twain was ridiculing than I was in the show-off shenanigans of his Yankee. Twain had a beef with the romanticization of the past, which he believed had helped cause the American Civil War, so he wasn’t too kind to King Arthur. I found this irritating rather than illuminating.

In my teens, I also read a number of historical novels, mostly about medieval English royalty. I enjoyed the details of historical setting and circumstance, but there again I was aware of the irritating anachronism inherent in the enterprise. I didn’t particularly enjoy the way modern authors seemed to think that twelfth century England was interesting chiefly because of the dynastic struggles of the Plantagenets — I’m sure people living in those days were concerned about such things only insofar as they had a real effect on their daily lives.

Later, I got a very different view of medieval life and concerns, by reading stories actually written in the twelfth century. Now that was (time) tripping! These stories, at first seemed strange to me. I guess I was experiencing first hand the truth of that saying: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” To understand such a story, I had to get inside the mind of a twelfth century reader (or writer) and try to understand not only their day-to-day concerns but also the furniture of their imaginations. To the extent that I succeeded, the literature really did transport me to a world lost in time.

Homer’s epics take me to an even stranger, more primitive world, different from our own in so many ways, and yet his over-sized heroic figures seem to embody universal human traits in a marvelous way. That, I believe, is why they are, in a peculiar way, timeless. As foreign as ancient Mycenaean Greece is to us today, Homer’s stories somehow manage both to embody that age perfectly and yet transcend the limitations of history and the particularities of culture. That is a mark of Homer’s genius — not every ancient epic manages that kind of transcendence. I can understand the motives of Homer’s Achilles or  Odysseus — or, for that matter Sophocles’ Oedipus — in a way that I can’t really sympathize with Gilgamesh or some other ancient heroes, who seem to lack a truly human dimension.

Touching the past

Mycenaean sword

The bronze blade has crumbled, but the gold hilt remains as bright as when it was last grasped by some Mycenaean hero 3,500 years ago.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I’ve also long been fascinated with archaeology, particularly of the ancient Mediterranean world. I first discovered this fascinating field as a seven-year-old, after a traveling encyclopedia salesman gave us the A volume of the World Book Encyclopedia as a sample. (I promptly read it cover to cover, and fell in love with archaeology and, to a lesser extent, anthropology.)  I’ve since had a number of opportunities to actually walk the streets of the ancient past, in Spain and Italy. Thanks to the painstaking work of archaeologists, I’ve walked the streets of Pompeii — lost to the world for nearly two thousand years, and then brought back to light, stunningly preserved — and descended into the ancient cemetery that lies beneath St Peter’s Basilica, imagining the families that picnicked there long ago with the relics of departed loved ones. I love to read about archaeological discoveries that shed new light on the ancient world.

One such recent discovery, described in this recent news story, reminded me that Homer’s epics, wreathed though they were in myth and legend even in his day, nevertheless take place in a world that was still familiar to the poet who described them (although he lived several centuries after the events he described).

Archaeologists digging at Pylos, an ancient city on the southwest coast of Greece, have discovered the rich grave of a warrior who was buried at the dawn of European civilization.

He lies with a yardlong bronze sword and a remarkable collection of gold rings, precious jewels and beautifully carved seals. Archaeologists expressed astonishment at the richness of the find and its potential for shedding light on the emergence of the Mycenaean civilization, the lost world of Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer.

Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus — those guys are all buddies of mine, whose homes I’ve visited, not by touring archaeological sites, but by way of the time machine created by Homer. I’ve lived through their travails with them, grieved with them and for them. No travel agent can provide that kind of experience. And even though archaeology can allow us, literally, to touch the past, it cannot allow us to live it. Ancient literature, however, when read well, can do just that.

Timeless truth

This may be one reason Homer’s epics were so highly regarded, even in his own day. The ancient Greeks believed that the best was already behind them, and they sought to learn from the past, where greater wisdom lay than anywhere in their contemporary world. Homer’s heroic poems capture the past so masterfully that Greeks in following centuries actually regarded them as a kind of encyclopedia or textbook that they used to educate their children. This is why, in Plato’s Republic, Socrates objects to “the lies of the poets” — every son of a prominent family was steeped in Homeric literature from a young age, a practice that Socrates (both the historical Socrates, and Plato’s literary character) believed filled their heads with dangerous ideas, not just of bravado and heroism but warped ideas about the gods. (Curiously, this puts Mark Twain and Plato on the same side.) One of the most important things Plato is doing in The Republic is proposing a better way of educating young men destined to be leaders. He objected not so much to fiction as to false ideals, which is why he has Socrates invent truer fictions.

Ornate book cover, The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer

Keep your Tardis, this is my time travel device of choice.

Today, I don’t think we need to worry that Homer will warp the minds of our young — quite the opposite. Today, in fact, we may have the opposite struggle — to get young people (and older ones, as well) to see how much truth is conveyed by these ancient tales of legendary figures. Few people in the modern world appreciate the real value of imaginative literature. Time travel stories, though, remain popular, and one of  TV’s most popular characters is the time-traveling Doctor Who, so there may yet be hope.

I’ll be returning to my series on ancient epic, by the way, so get the Tardis warmed up for a return to Augustan Rome and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I’m also planning a post on some of my favorite time travel fiction, including Jack Finney’s Time and Again, and Andrew M. Seddon’s Ring of Time.

©2015 Lisa A. Nicholas

Holy Saturday, the still center of all Creation

I think in many ways Holy Saturday is my favorite day of the Sacred Triduum, chiefly because of this ancient homily, which is traditionally read on the morning of this day. Try reading this aloud in a church that has been stripped of its sacred appointments, and devoid of the Sacred Presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament – it will send ripples of awe down your spine.

Homily on The Lord’s descent into hell

by St John Chrysostom

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.

At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.

Illumination, Christ rescuing the souls of the death from the mouth of Hell
“Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

“I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God.

“The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

While the apostles and other disciples, Mary and the other women, and you and I mourn the loss of Jesus, he is not lying idle in the grave. He is busy with the work of salvation, fulfilling the hope of those who looked forward to His coming and those who hardly dared to hope, even our first Parents.

The Divine Word creates birds and fishes

The Word, living and true, has been active from the beginning of Creation.

He is always busy – I AM is Being Itself, but He is also eternal activity, creating, sustaining, saving. Today is a good day to remember that we must not lose hope, even for those who have departed this life. In God’s eternity, we may hope that even now our prayers can help them.

The mystery of Holy Saturday is revealed in the celebration of the Easter Vigil, when the Light of the World is restored in the Easter fire and the whole of Salvation history is rehearsed in the many Scripture readings and psalms – to remind us that what happened on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter morning not only sets the past to rights but also points to the future culmination of all things. And Holy Saturday is the still center of that cosmic Event. Enjoy the stillness, and then attend the Easter Vigil. The whole meaning of life is to be found therein.

Learn more about the implications of this ancient homily for us all in “Good Holy Saturday,” by Matthew Hanley on The Catholic Thing.

©2015 Lisa A. Nicholas

Something for you Trekkies: Saints, heroes, and Klingons

Okay, I know I got all the Trekkies hooked when I put up that post about Captain Picard and the Tamarian (you all subscribed to this blog, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?)

Well, read this to find out why my pal Dennis McGeehan, says Saint Joseph would make the perfect patron saint of the Klingons.

Death of Enkidu, if he and Gilgamesh had been Klingons

Question: What would Worf think about Gilgamesh? 

Would he dig him, or would he bury him? More importantly, what would he think of Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality?


(My answer, anyway): I think Worf would admire Gilgamesh’s heroic exploits and his desire for greatness, but I think he would abhor his response to the death of Enkidu. Or maybe not, if he believed that Gilgamesh, as a mere human, would not have access to Sto-Vo-Kor (the Klingon Valhalla). But he might also sympathize with Gilgamesh’s depression at the thought that all his deeds would die with him, and respect his recovery after failing to grasp immortality.

©2015 Lisa A. Nicholas

Please leave your thoughts or comments below!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Now arm yourselves!

Opening line of the Lorica prayer, or Saint Patrick's Breastplate

I love St Patrick’s Day, not because I love green beer, parades, or even corned beef, but because it reminds me of the great prayer attributed to the saint who drove the snakes (and the pagans?) out of Ireland. You probably know a hymn called St Patrick’s Breastplate, but did you know that the hymn was not itself written by the saint, but is based on an ancient prayer attributed to the patron of Ireland?

Roman re-enactor wearing lorica segmentata

Roman re-enactor wearing lorica segmentata

It is sometimes called the Lorica, a word which means “breastplate,” i.e., literally a piece of armor that protects a combatant’s chest, also called a cuirass. Roman soldiers wore a lorica segmentata as part of their battle armor. In the Christian era, the term lorica also came to mean a prayer of protection — no doubt with reference to the armor of faith that St Paul in the sixth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians says will allow the believer “to stand before the wiles of the devil”:

[B]e strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints … (Ephesians 6: 10-18, RSV-CE)

The Lorica of St Patrick is such a prayer, one that should be familiar to every Christian. (It is a great way to start the day.)

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of heathenry,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

If you’d like to know more about other great Celtic saints, check out my review of Andrew Seddon’s second edition of Saints Alive!, Celtic Paths.

©2015 Lisa A. Nicholas

By Jove, I think I’ve got it! Or “Sokath, his eyes open”

In case the title of this post is too cryptic for you, let me explain: the “it” I think I’ve got is the way forward for this blog. For the past couple of years, I’m been concentrating on writing a novel, my first — in fact, I’m still working on it. In the process, my various blogs, of which this one is the chief, have fallen fallow, a situation that has been as necessary as it has been regrettable (for me, at least). But I’ve finally got the novel in good enough shape that I can dare to let the intellectual side of my brain steal a little time from the creative side. And that means I’m ready to resume this blog.So that explains half of my cryptic title, but what about the other half: “Sokath, his eyes open”? Some obscure literary allusion that can be grasped by only the most erudite? In fact, no. That is, not unless you consider the script of a television science fiction series to be “literature” (I must admit, I do not.) In fact, I’m quoting a Tamarian in the second episode of the fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG).

I had no idea I was not the only one impressed by this episode. It is apparently HUGE amongst geeks everywhere. I found this on the Square Root of Minus-Garfield, http://www.mezzacotta.net/garfield.

When the original Star Trek series got rebooted back in the 1980s, I was delighted. In those days, sci-fi was not well represented on television. So I gritted my teeth through some truly awful episodes during the first season or so of TNG, and became a fan of what turned out to be quite a long and successful franchise (if we include the three spin-off series, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, the Star Trek TV reboot endured more than twenty seasons).  While a lot of it was just fun to watch, one of the things I admired about the series was the writers’ willingness to grapple with perennial human and social problems while telling tales of grand adventure. (As I’ve said elsewhere, I think this is what the best science fiction always does). Although the more topical episodes were seldom the best in terms of pure entertainment value, nonetheless some of them were truly memorable.

The episode that has stuck with me most persistently is one that I admired more for what it attempted than what it achieved. For now, I’ll pass over its defects and concentrate on what I find compelling about this episode, “Darmok.” Captain Picard and his crew encounter an alien race called the Tamarians. This is not the first time representatives of the United Federation of Planets have encountered this race, but it is the first time they have tried to enter into serious discussion with them. This is because, although Starfleet’s vaunted universal translator can render any alien language into Standard English, even in English, what the Tamarians have to say doesn’t make much sense.

It takes Picard and his crew a painfully long time to figure out what must have been clear to most television viewers very quickly: the Tamarians communicate solely by literary references, allusions to the great epic tales of their culture. Because he does not know the stories from which these cryptic quotations are taken, Picard has trouble understanding what his opposite number means by such enigmatic references as “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” or “Temba, his arms open wide.” When it is almost too late , the Starfleet captain finally understands and tries to communicate his understanding and goodwill in terms the alien will appreciate — he tells him the story of the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, from the eponymous ancient Mesopotamian epic. Here is an excerpt that shows Picard resolving the misunderstanding at the last possible moment:

When I first saw this episode, I was deeply struck by it, despite the fact that the plot, in many ways, just didn’t make much sense. At the time, I didn’t know what exactly it was that struck me so, but several years later, when I was teaching a college course called Humanities in the Western Cultural Tradition, I often fantasized about showing this Star Trek episode on the first day of class, as a kind of apologia for the course. I think it touches on something deeply relevant to what I hoped to achieve: not only to familiarize students with our great cultural tradition, but to convey to them a sense of how vital it remains, particularly for anyone who wishes to believe himself “educated.” These stories are (or, at least, have been until recently) deeply embedded in our culture, and they have given that culture its form. To know these stories well is, in some sense, to know ourselves, not merely as atomistic individuals but as members of something larger than ourselves, something much older and (God willing) more durable than our own personal tastes and meager efforts.

In the epilogue of “Darmok,” Captain Jean-Luc Picard arrives at a similar  conviction about the importance of understanding one’s own culture. We see him sitting quietly, reading a book, which turns out to be a volume of the Homeric Hymns in the original Greek (what a Renaissance man!). Had I ever shown this episode to my students, that scene would have been the kicker: even in the distant future, the ancient past will still be “relevant.”

So, as I continue to work on my novel — which, it just so happens, also shows that ancient literature will continue to be relevant in the far future — I will try not to neglect this blog’s ongoing discussion of the great (and sometimes merely good) literature of the Western tradition, as well as contemporary works that I think will be of interest to my readers.

Here are some of the works I hope to be writing about over the coming weeks and months:

  • Graeco-Roman epics, including The Odyssey and The Aeneid, and perhaps Beowulf as well
  • Medieval Arthurian Romance, including Chretien de Troyes’ The Story of the Grail and the Middle English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • The works of Flannery O’Connor and other modern Catholic authors
  • St Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions and his City of God
  • Philosophical works, including Plato’s Republic, Cicero’s De republica (chiefly The Dream of Scipio), and Thomas More’s Utopia
  • Catholic social teaching, beginning with Rerum Novarum

Are there any “great classics” you would like to have illuminated? If you have any suggestions or requests, please mention it in a comment below.While you’re at it, let me know how you like this layout for the blog. I’m a little irked that it doesn’t allow you to search for posts by keyword (or a bunch of other stuff I’d like it to do) and I’m not quite convinced that a little extra eye-appeal is a good trade-off for loss of functionality. Or am I the only one bothered by that?

If you’d like to read an extended analysis of the “Darmok” episode, take a look at this article from The Atlantic.

©2015 Lisa A. Nicholas

Contemporary Catholic writers: Mystery & suspense

I was sorting through a bunch of goodies that I picked up last August at the combined Catholic Writers Guild/New Media/Marketing Network conference and thought I would pass them on to you, before I “file” them (you know what that means). Among other things, I nabbed a number of marketing cards for novels written by members of the Catholic Writers Guild, and I thought I would commend these books to your consideration (even though I have not read most of them). A few that don’t get mentioned here will be noted over on my Catholic Science Fiction blog. Today, I thought I would focus on suspense and mystery titles. Here goes:

Unbridled Grace by Michael J. NormanUnbridled Grace: A True Story about the Power of Choice, by Michael J. Norman is not fiction, but fact. The author is a chiropractor from right here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, whose true story sounds like a best-selling thriller. Dr. Norman got dragged into a rats’ nest of intrigue when he unknowingly became involved with a Russian money-laundering ring under investigation by the FBI. The book’s web site describes the story this way:

Unbridled Grace is the true story of how one man rises from the forces of evil through his renewed faith in Christ and takes the reader on a journey to redemption through the bold use of our power of choice for God. Along the way, Michael meets a dynamic Catholic parish priest who gives him the courage to forge a path through this crisis and a hard-working attorney who joins him in this monumental battle. Will their efforts be enough to free the author and
his family from this nightmare? It is at this time that a series of seemingly miraculous occurrences begin and the reader is shown what courage, faith and the power of heartfelt prayer can bring to all of our lives when all else appears hopeless.

Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret LewisMurder in The Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, by Ann Margaret Lewis, with some charming illustrations by Rikki Niehaus. I am really sorry my book-buying budget is so non-existent these days, because I would really love to read this book. As you can see, the author cashes in on the current popular trend of extending the literary lives of great characters from out-of-copyright books of the past. Who could resist a book in which Sherlock Holmes gets to sleuth for Pope Leo XIII? Here’s the blurb:

Follow the great Sherlock Holmes as he investigates three baffling cases at the “express desire of his Holiness, the Pope.” Stories include “The Death of Cardinal Tosca,” “The Vatican Cameos,” and “The Second Coptic Patriarch.” You’ll encounter baffling crimes, rich, historical settings, and a fateful encounter with Father Brown!  These thrilling tales of murder and intrigue vividly bring to life three of Watson’s “untold tales!”

Cover: Viper by John DesjarlaisViper, by John Desjarlais, sports the tagline, “Who is stronger, the serpent or the virgin?” This the second mystery featuring Latina sleuth, Selena de la Cruz, a former DEA agent turned insurance investigator.

Selena De La Cruz has a problem. Just before All Souls’ Day someone entered the names of nine people in her church’s Book of the Dead, seeking prayers for their souls. The problem? All nine are still alive. Until they start getting murdered . . . one by one . . . in the precise order their names were entered in the Book of the Dead . . . and always right after a local visionary sees a mysterious woman known as The Blue Lady. Is she the Virgin Mary warning the next victim? Lady Death, the Aztec goddess, come to claim another soul? Or someone less mystical, but deadly nonetheless? Selena doesn’t know but had better find out: only a few souls on that list have not yet been murdered, and the last name on it is . . . Selena De La Cruz.

The Soul Reader, by Gerard D. WebsterSoul Reader, by Gerard D. Webster. This novel is a sequel but, according to reader reviews, can be read as a stand-alone tale. (Don’t you love it when you fall in love with a story and then discover there is more where that came from?) Apparently, in the first book, the protagonist lost his eyesight but gained the ability to see into people’s souls (whence the title of this book).

It is a year after his father’s murder when Carrie Hope asks Ward to assist her in writing a book about the North Beach Project, the money-laundering scheme that led to his father’s death. Ward initially turns her down. … But when Carrie decides to pursue the investigation without him, Ward is faced with a difficult choice: he can allow her to go it alone and possibly get killed . . . or he can join her in hopes of being able to protect her. Ward’s uncanny insight might give him an edge-and allow him to see the evil coiled …

Although I haven’t yet read any of these books, they all sound like things I’d enjoy and, judging by the great reviews they get on Amazon, they are intriguing tales that embody Catholic values and themes, so I don’t hesitate to bring them to your attention. If you have read any of them, please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

©2013 Lisa A. Nicholas