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Even the mildest of monks who have withdrawn from the world to pursue a life of meditation and sangha life become suspects as Alex Sullivan, an NYPD cop and novice Zen student, tries to reconcile her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?

By | 2016-10-22T08:21:19+00:00 August 8th, 2011|It's a Mystery|8 Comments


  1. Katie August 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    Ooooh I love mysteries! If only there were an eBook version for my upcoming airline-flight-apalooza!

    • Nancy August 18, 2011 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      Maybe that will happen by your next trip. Stay tuned.

  2. elle August 18, 2011 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    i would love to read this!! please give us more

  3. Donna August 19, 2011 at 11:35 am - Reply

    Please tell me that it turns out that SHE is actually the killer – her split personality {insert unholy zen name here} only emerges during deep meditation….
    okay, maybe not, but when you start thinking about all the possibilities with just a synopsis it MUST be good!
    Love the line: “What, indeed, is the sound of one hand killing?”

  4. GTauber August 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    HI Nancy–I’m a big mystery fan and this sounds fun. This year I started reading Japanese mystery writers–one of the stories took place in a retreat in the mountains–someone was killed in the room of the public baths–it was a good one but of course I forget the outcome. Reminds me of yours a bit but I love the Buddhist twist. Good luck.

    • Nancy August 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      Yes, there is definitely a formula with mysteries… though mine has what I think is a unique twist. Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Betty O'Hara Scully August 20, 2011 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    Murder mysteries are the best (I enjoyed every single one of Margaret Truman’s, which all had settings where I grew up). Lately I get down to the fishing piers a couple times a week for quiet time…when I get home I write a short e-mail to a friend about “imaginary” visitors I run into there, always including the early news of the day. Now I realize I should’ve kept copies and compiled a “Notebook of Conspiracies” (or whatever!) Keep up the good work….

  6. Babs September 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    This sounds like a great read — I love the idea of a murder in a monastery — unique, compelling location — with plenty of interesting possibilities — is it monk in the garden? or the cook in the tenzo? And I think the title is terrific —

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