The Sacrament

Ecco: HarperCollins. Dec. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780062899873. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062899897. F
Could a nun’s placid exterior hide a complicated and conflicted inner life? In his latest novel (after One Station Away), former Time Warner vice president Olafsson toys with the reader’s assumptions. Prior to joining her order and taking the name Sister Marie Joseph, young Frenchwoman Pauline studied at the Sorbonne, where she found herself attracted to her charming Icelandic roommate, Halla. Throughout her ecclesiastical life, a diabolical priest threatens her with knowledge of her lesbian inclinations and finally sends her to Iceland to investigate a sexual predator priest, believing that he can manipulate her into whitewashing her report. Nevertheless, Sister Marie Joseph and a local man named Pall form a pair of dogged detectives, with the case taking a surprising turn.
VERDICT Olafsson deftly braids present and past events as Sister Marie Joseph grapples with her recollections of Halla while ensnaring herself in the investigation. The sister’s first-person voice seems dry and dispassionate, but the novel confounds our expectations, sifting through memory, as it evolves into a low-simmering psychological thriller. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 6/10/19.]

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