The latest in a series of mystery novels written by a Nazareth College alum will have readers walking alongside the book’s protagonist in a very familiar setting.
Elaine Munsch, a 1968 graduate of Nazareth College, used the Nazareth Motherhouse Campus as inspiration for her latest book, “A Haunting at Marianwood,” which explores mysterious happenings at a fictional convent in Kentucky.
“Sister Miriam Patrice has been hearing things, seeing things, and misplacing things,” the book’s synopsis states. “Marianwood, the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Mother of God, is located on an old plantation thought to be haunted by its original inhabitant, who is rumored to prowl the grounds in search of her murdered beau. In a battle of wits, will the victor be supernatural or a very corporeal retired Army colonel?”
“A Haunting at Marianwood” is the latest in Munsch’s Dash Hammond comedic cozy mystery series, a project she launched a few years ago under the pseudonym E.M. Munsch. Set largely on the shores of Lake Erie, the series follows Hammond, a retired U.S. Army colonel and his frequent run-ins with murder and mystery. In the most recent installment, protagonist Hammond is called to Kentucky when his cousin, Sister Miriam, reports odd occurrences at the convent.
The novel is the first time Munsch has ventured outside of Ohio for her series’ setting.
“I always wanted to set a story at Nazareth.”
“I always wanted to set a story at Nazareth,” Munsch said, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she decided to finally sit down and write a ghost story set at her alma mater. She added that when she attended the campus as a student, there were rumors about hauntings and spirits, and it was fun to explore those youthful ideas again while writing the novel.
“Whether it has ghosts or not, I don’t know, but I have a feeling there are some wandering around,” she laughed.
Munsch said she didn’t want to call the setting in her novel Nazareth, but “If you went to Nazareth or if you know anything at all about Nazareth, you will recognize it here.”
In the opening chapters of her book, Munsch clearly describes the drive into the campus with the cemetery to the right, the walkways by the lake and even the little guard post. As one continues to read, it’s easy to recognize many other scenes, even if referred to by different names.
While remembering the campus layout was important for the story, Munsch also corresponded with Sister Frances Krumpelman, a historian, to discuss Congregational and religious details, such as the hierarchy of the order. This helped develop the book’s Sister Miriam Patrice character, who presides over the fictional order in the novel.
While a native of Ohio, Nazareth holds an important place in Munsch’s heart.
“It was an awful lot of fun here,” she said of her time as a student. “I met some wonderful girls here and made some lifelong friends.”
Nazareth is special for many reasons, she said. It is at Nazareth that she developed her confidence and leadership skills. It is also here where she found the most inspiration for her writing. Munsch describes the Dash Hammond character of her series as a mixture of television characters like Thomas Magnum (Magnum P.I.) and Jim Rockford (The Rockford Files), and her late husband, Chuck Munsch, a Fort Knox soldier whom she met while attending Nazareth College. She said it was love at first sight, and the two were married on the campus in July 1971.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were also a significant influence on Munsch’s life. She remained in contact with some of her Sister mentors, such as Sister Anna Marie Conklin and Sister Barbara Peterson, until their passings.
Munsch said she has always been a reader and would visit the library often while growing up in Cleveland. When she eventually made her way to Nazareth College — having family ties in the area — she loved having a library within steps of her dorm. While she was passionate about reading everything from fiction to nonfiction and would often make up stories in her head, writing itself did not come as naturally. At Nazareth College, she found encouragement from her English instructor, Sister Anna Marie, who introduced Munsch to classic mystery tales such as Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time.”
At Nazareth, Munsch took a creative writing course and further explored her stories, though it would still be some time before her name would appear on local bookshelves. In 1972, shortly after graduating, Munsch became a bookseller for Readmore Books in Louisville and continued her passion for reading. Later, Munsch opened and managed a Barnes and Noble on Hurstbourne.
While managing the store, Munsch received a call from an author friend in Cleveland who told her about Sisters in Crime, an international writers’ group for women. Munsch said the group was formed to offer support and encouragement for female writers, as there was not a level playing field in the world of writing for women at the time, especially for female writers of crime fiction.
Munsch has been a member of the group’s Louisville chapter ever since, even serving as its president. Sisters in Crime has helped her tremendously in developing her writing and reaching her dream of publishing a book by the age of 70.
When Munsch attended a reunion of Nazareth College graduates this fall, she brought copies of the book with her, and the series garnered some interest. She also donated a book to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Archival Center and the Sisters’ campus library.
Sister Susan Gatz, who resides in Bardstown, recently finished the book and found it to be a fun read. It was entertaining, she said, to picture all the places on campus as she read, which is what Munsch was going for in her descriptions.
“A Haunting at Marianwood” is the sixth book in the Dash Hammond series and the first to be published through Mystery and Horror, LLC, a company started by Sisters in Crime members. Munsch said a seventh book is in the works and could publish before the end of the year. Both books will be available through Barnes and Noble.
In addition to her Dash Hammond series, Munsch has collaborated on derby- and bourbon-themed anthology mysteries, the latter of which was shared with Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown.
Elaine Munsch is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University doing work for her master’s degree in English Literature. In addition to writing and selling books, she taught classes in the mystery genre for the Veritas Society. She is currently working on a mystery novel outside of the Dash Hammond series based on her neighborhood in Cleveland, and is exploring the idea of continuing the Marianwood story at a later date.