Mystery Sister 

The case of the nun, the crime novel, and the homeless shelter turns out to have a beneficial ending.

A Roman Catholic nun, mystery novels, and a shelter for homeless women -- these are the unlikely ingredients for one of the season's most unusual benefit events. Saturday evening at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Oakland, some fourteen Bay Area mystery writers come together to talk to their fans over dinner, with the proceeds going to A Friendly Place, a San Pablo Avenue daytime drop-in center for homeless women, founded by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie and other members of the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet.

How does a nun relate to whodunits? She writes them. According to event coordinator Stacy Warner (a confessed Agatha Christie fan), Sister Carol Anne is the author of more than a dozen "Sister Helen" mysteries. Like the rest of Saturday's group of novelists, Carol Anne has a day job and draws on that for material for her mysteries, blending reality with fiction. For instance, writer Mark Coggins sets all his books in Silicon Valley, where he works. Camille Minichino, a chemistry teacher, uses the periodic tables in her titles. And Cara Black, who spends time in France, sets her mysteries in Paris. Says Warner, "They're all colleagues of hers and they enjoy meeting their public. And they're members of the Mystery Writers of America as well as Sisters in Crime, an organization of women mystery authors."

Sister Carol Anne, who started A Friendly Place as a place for homeless women to shower, wash clothes, and receive mail, won't be at Saturday's dinner and talk, but there's no big mystery about that -- she's in Ireland, celebrating her fiftieth anniversary in the order with a trip to her family home. She will greet the gathering on videotape. Meanwhile, such authors as Louise Crawford and Simon Wood, who both use Bay Area settings for their books, will wine and dine with mystery fans who've plunked down $50 for the privilege.

Mystery Lovers' Night takes place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 1658 Excelsior Ave., Oakland. For tickets, phone 510-530-6333. All proceeds benefit A Friendly Place.

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