by Claire McManus

My book club's book for April was Sinners and Saints, by Eileen Dreyer. We've been experimenting with different ways of reading. Last month we decided to read two books with similar settings, and then compare/contrast them. This month we all put our names in a hat.
The person whose name was selected was in charge of getting the book. We all gave her $10 and shipped her off to Barnes & Noble to come back with 10 copies of the chosen book for us.
We all know each other pretty well, and we know what we like and what we don't, so this wasn't as risky as it sounds.

She came back with 10 copies of Sinners and Saints, which she'd found on the remainder shelves for $6.99 each! What a joy to get a hardcover for less than what we pay for some paperbacks (I was reminded of the recent discussion on DL of the pleasures of hardcovers). And, with the leftover money, we got a nice selection of cakes and cookies for the meeting.

She said she chose the book because several of us have friends or family in New Orleans, and we've all been concerned about what's going on down there in the wake of Katrina.
Also, the book has a fabulous cover….
We liked the book's set-up quite a bit. Chastity Byrnes is a forensic nurse living in St. Louis.
She has a troubled past that has led to a break with her sister, Faith. Out of the blue Chastity gets a call from a brother-in-law she didn't know she had. He asks for her help in finding Faith in New Orleans. Sensing the opportunity for a reconciliation, Chastity heads off to the Big Easy. We all thought this was a very plausible premise for a mystery. One member mentioned that the subtext is the idea that nothing interesting happens in America's "second cities" like St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati—and that you have to go to one of the big cities to get any excitement.

We also loved the New Orleans atmosphere—the sense of personal freedom, the cemeteries, parties, the "get drunk and make love" ethos of the place, along with its darker side of voodoo history and crime. As Chastity investigates, she finds that people who tried to help her sister have also disappeared, which is a suspenseful premise. Interestingly, what also adds incredibly well to the suspense is a gathering storm/hurricane that could wipe out New Orleans. So, Chastity is racing against the clock and, perhaps, someone who's out to get her. Again, this was a totally plausible scenario and really made for a page-turner.

We liked the characters too, though, but with some reservations. Chastity, while engaging, seems to be today's stock mystery heroine, independent and sassy. There's also the sort of stock romance with an ex-fireman she hires to be her guide around New Orleans. The dialogue there can get a little cloyingly cute. We also felt that the book was a little too long. In addition, this is a very Mary Higgins Clark type of book, with short sentences and paragraphs written at a very low reading level. This makes it a good book for people of all ages, but it's not really a sophisticated read, and some of the writing is unintentionally funny. (Example: "Chastity embraced a plethora of personal portents.") A couple of us have teenage children and we thought this would be a good book to help them make the transition into adult reading, especially because the story is so cinematic and well crafted.

So, in a nutshell, we really did enjoy this book. It created a sense of sadness all over again for what has happened to the people of New Orleans, and it also made several us think we'd like to pick up another book by the same author as a good beach or airplane read.

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