Thursday, December 22, 2022

Joan Leotta Reviews: Death of a Scholar: A Father Gabriel Mystery by Fiorella De Maria

Death of a Scholar: A Father Gabriel Mystery

By Fiorella De Maria

Publisher St. Ignatius Books

·         Paperback ‏ : ‎ 262 pages

·         ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1621645177

·         ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1621645177




Slowly. The book begins slowly. I was fifty pages into it before the “action” began. Be prepared that this is a book to read on afternoons when you are ready to relax with your novel, ready for a long chat over tea. This more old-fashioned sort of beginning for a mystery novel than today’s slam bang way of starting a tale might have put me off, but the idea of following the path of Father Gabriel, a man who shares my father’s name, and who is a formerly married priest, well, that was too intriguing. I persisted and am glad I did.


In postwar England, the time period of Chesterton’s priest, Gabriel brings that added sensibility of a widowed man, (now celibate for God). His extensive “lived” insights into human relationships and sharp observational skills are what make him a great detective and confidant to those who seek his counsel.


De Maria, by forcing me to slow down, did make me “smell the roses” more closely terms of better appreciating her excellent plotting and intricate physiological character assessments. This is the fourth installment of the series, and the first chapter takes us into Gabriel’s mind and allows us to catch up with who he is and where he is. Gabriel’s inner self is central to the book—to all of them, I imagine. We meet him  as he sits in the rooms of his old university friend, an academic, at their alma mater.

On page 46 the action of murder mystery begins—“something has happened” Arthur, another key character in this novel, tells Gabriel and off the two of them go to discover the dead body, a woman holding a nitrogen canister.


-Yet, even with the action starting, De Maria, is not in a hurry. The case and Gabriel’s insights unfold with the precious care of a rosebud on a partly sunny day. Along the way, De Maria carefully plants the bits and pieces we and Gabriel need to solve the mystery—"who dunnit” as they say.


Because of my impatience with such pacing, I can only give this mystery a four star, but it is outstanding, and pacing is not all.  Although  I wish she had moved Father Gabriel along more quickly, I must say, which descriptions would I have consigned to the bin? Which interactions with other characters? Which musings of Gabriel either on the case and about his background?  No, I cannot really fault her for lagging “behind” my preferred reading pace—thanks to the beauty of her language, the intimacy of the dialogue she conjures up between Gabriel and the other characters and his own musings.


Will I read more of these if they come out? Yes, and I plan to read the previous three—because now that I’ve put the book down, I miss Father Gabriel. I want to know him better. I’m looking forward to the next one in the series. Definitely the resolution of the mystery is important—that woman, the cannister, what happened, the moral minefield that faces scientists whose work contributes to weapons, but there is more to life than that. De Maria does not bow to the current trend of rapid-fire action, instead giving reads time to see the broader picture of  life. Like the mysteries of the classical age. A mystery to be savored.


My reading copy came from the publisher with no expectation of a review.

Joan Leotta ©2022

Joan Leotta plays with words on page and stage. Her poetry, essays, cnf, short stories, and articles are widely published. Mysteries are favorite things to read.. short and long.. and to write.

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