Would you read a mystery novel about murder in a Zen Buddhist monastery? With monks and Zen Masters and students wreaking havoc in a secluded mountain setting?
I wrote such a novel a few years ago and though my agent couldn’t sell it, I’m still convinced there’s an audience out there for it. Every so often I’ll post an excerpt here on my blog and would love to hear from you if you want more. Who knows, maybe this will just be simply for my own enjoyment. If so, so be it. Thanks for tuning in. Here’s a quick summary of the plotline:
If there is anything that should never happen at a Buddhist Monastery, it’s murder. Author Nancy O’Hara takes the reader of ONE HAND KILLING behind the shoji screens of a Zen Buddhist Monastery in the Catskill Mountains, and finds that even a world dedicated to promoting non-violence and rigorous self-discipline is not immune to the common commotions of murder, as monks and nuns become the target of an increasingly baffling homicidal rampage.
Even the mildest of monks who have withdrawn from the world to pursue a life of meditation and sangha life become suspects as Alex Sullivan, an NYPD cop and novice Zen student, tries to reconcile her hard-boiled police persona with her reverence for the practice and people of the Monastery, in order to catch a killer. That she herself may also be in the crosshairs of the murderer makes solving the multiplying cases while protecting Setsu Roshi, the Zen Master who runs the Monastery, exceedingly tricky.
In the tradition of the best murder mysteries, ONE HAND KILLING offers the reader entree into a new experience: the recondite world of a Zen Monastery, in which people can – and in fact are required – to reinvent themselves, with new names, new lifestyles, and vows that would seem to preclude sex, drugs, and violence. But an old police hand like Alex knows that some things just don’t change.
Haunted by the twenty years of homicide cases she’d seen on the force, as well as old personal tragedies, Alex is about ready to take retirement. She has been through the broken relationships and the heart hardening that is pretty standard in a cop’s progress through the circles of hell on the job.
In stumbling upon the practice of Zen meditation, Alex has found a salvation that is incompatible with her work life. When the first corpse violates the peace of her weeklong retreat at the monastery, Alex is forced to try to reconcile the two distinct halves of herself, becoming a Buddhist student wielding the distinctly unspiritual tools of her homicide detective profession, uncomfortably concealing a police issue gun under her meditation robes.
It is a doomed tightrope walk that forces her to suspect the worst of her fellow students, and to train a cold cop eye on the Enlightened Master himself. As she pulls up various rocks in the previous and present lives of the monks, nuns, and the Roshi, she is chilled to see the number of maggots scurrying around in their pasts.
By the time the third body appears, delivered by an almost supernatural-seeming hand, Alex is ready to accept the help of her private eye Uncle Charlie. Is she losing her cop’s chops with her newly embraced spiritual practice, or is the murderer just too clever for her and the disgruntled local cops, Wolfe and Kluny?
A fast-paced murder mystery that is also a fascinating psychological portrait of the struggle between light and dark forces in the spiritual world, ONE HAND KILLING is a new and unusual twist in the suspense genre, going well beyond Who-done-it? to a more sophisticated literary koan: What, indeed, is the sound of one hand killing?