New thriller by Maeve Binchy to be published two years after her death
Two years after her death, Ireland's best-loved writer Maeve Binchy will be back next month with a very unexpected new book.
It's a thriller called 'Sister Caravaggio', a breathless crime caper about nuns and a priceless stolen painting.
Those who knew her well were always aware that instead of romantic fiction like her own books, Maeve loved to read a good thriller when she was relaxing. "I love thriller writers. My favourites are Harlan Coban, Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Kathy Reichs and Ed McBain," she said a few years ago.
So Maeve being involved in thriller writing is not such a big leap. But the news that any kind of new Maeve Binchy book is coming out in a few weeks will be a huge surprise to her millions of readers.
When Maeve died in the summer of 2012, she had just finished her last novel, 'A Week in Winter', which was a bestseller that Christmas.
Some time after that her husband, the writer Gordon Snell, discovered a drawer full of forgotten stories which Maeve had written featuring characters who lived on an imaginary road in Dublin called Chestnut Street and the book of that name was a bestseller last Christmas. Maeve's fans were resigned to the fact that it seemed to be the end of her wonderful writing. But it turns out that she had one thrilling surprise left that very few people knew about - her work on the thriller 'Sister Caravaggio'.
That started when her friend, novelist Peter Cunningham, called to her home in Dalkey in early 2010 with an idea for a thriller about nuns which would be co-written by a number of authors.
"As I outlined the story to her, I could see Maeve's interest quickening," he says. When he asked her if she would write a section, there was no hesitation. "I'm in," Maeve said.
Early on it was decided that who wrote each part of the book would be kept secret. With each of the seven sections written by a different author, the reader is left guessing - and there will be a lot of interest in trying to spot which section was written by Maeve.
Over the following two years, the story developed as the different writers in turn added on their sections. Mr Cunningham edited the book but Maeve was heavily involved, often on a weekly basis. "She was intensely involved, supportive, encouraging and helpful. She read the early drafts and made suggestions," he said.
The story which eventually emerged is filled with mystery and murder. The Caravaggio painting which hangs in Doon Abbey in Kildare attracts visitors from afar and is the main source of income for the nuns.
One night, however, the painting disappears. The Sister Superior is unwilling to co-operate with the gardai as this would compromise the abbey's silent-order ethos. But Alice Dunwoody, a novitiate who heard strange sounds on the night of the theft, persuades Sister Superior to allow her to investigate, with the help of the abbey's computer-savvy librarian, Sister Mary Magdalene. As the nuns try to track down the painting, the list of possible suspects - and the body count - multiplies.
The seven writers who authored the book are novelists Maeve, Peter Cunningham, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Mary O'Donnell and Peter Sheridan, with playwright Neil Donnelly and crime writer Cormac Millar. "Maeve fully expected to be here for the launch and the publicity, but unfortunately that did not come to pass. She never imagined, I'm sure, that our conversation at lunch that spring day in Dalkey would result in the final novel that she would be involved in," Mr Cunningham said.
The book, which is being published by Liberties Press, will be launched at the Royal Irish Academy on September 3.