Blessed Water by Margot Douaihy

2 Mins read
Blessed Water by Margot Douaihy front cover

Last year’s Scorched Grace, my favourite book of 2023, introduced readers to one of the most memorable, sympathetic and unique private eyes of recent years. Sister Holiday is a tattooed, punk, queer nun, music teacher at New Orleans’ Saint Sebastien’s School, who is a member of Sisters of the Sublime Blood. Such a character could easily turn into caricature or an object of fun, a distraction that taking away from the real purpose of the story, but author Margot Douaihy skilfully avoided all those traps. Sister Holiday convinces because of her faith, her resilience, her sincerity. Her authenticity.

Having investigated some acts of arson at Saint Sebastien’s, Sister Holiday has joined forces with former fire service investigator, Magnolia Riveaux, in her new venture, The Redemption Detective Agency.

It’s Easter, and New Orleans is experiencing a storm of almost biblical proportions. Sister Holiday has been given her first job; meeting a prospective client at the Mississippi River, Pier 11. Jasmine Norwood suspects her husband of adultery, and Sister Holiday is there at the client’s request to get background information. The client doesn’t show, but Sister Holiday finds a body in the water, eyes gouged out, hands tied behind his back, crosses branded into his cheeks. It’s Father Reese, a priest at Saint Sebastien’s — in Sister Holiday’s opinion, a man more concerned with feathering his nest on the convention circuit than saving souls.

Detective Reginald Grogan and Sergeant Ruby Decker of the NOPD are assigned the case. After the events of Scorched Grace, the four investigators have history, but it’s not a happy reunion. Riveaux left the force, and Grogan and Decker haven’t forgotten.

Back at school, Sister Holiday finds that the young priest Father Nathan is missing. Nathan had become her friend, a comrade against against the disapproval of Sister Honor and the laxness of Father Reese. Sister Holiday’s search for the missing priest digs up his log book, and it looks as if Nathan had been investigating Reese. There are entries documenting the murdered priest’s activities, and his computer had been hacked by Nathan too. Any doubt that Nathan’s disappearance is linked to Reese’s murder is dispelled by the delivery of a photograph showing Nathan, bound and gagged, possibly having been tortured.

Sister Holiday really has a lot to contend with in Blessed Water. Alongside the central mystery, her vow of chastity is being tested by another teacher, her brother Goose (Moose, to her) has been discharged from the army and arrives unexpectedly at the convent, and the storm is threatening to wash the old buildings of her school and convent from the face of the Earth. Fittingly for a faith-based story, Blessed Water takes place over the Easter Holidays and the mystery is perhaps a little light, the solution more or less falling into Holiday and Riveaux’s hands.

But that’s not where the appeal of this series lies. The relationship between the two private investigators is a compelling study of female friendship, and the siblings share a complicated, sometimes antagonistic relationship, affected by shared trauma. A novel exploring the Catholic Church’s legacy of abuse, occurring as floods threaten New Orleans, is relieved by frequent moments of light-heartedness, and the writing is rich in themes, metaphor and imagery. It’s very difficult to think of a similar series; quite an achievement in a genre as popular as crime fiction.

The waters in this novel run deep, but I would urge every reader to dip a toe in. Just have a little faith.

See our review of Scorched Grace here.

Pushkin Vertigo

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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