Alison Joseph

Who is Sister Agnes?

A contemporary nun, Sister Agnes lives in an open order, based in London. She has a tiny flat in Southwark, and she does whatever work the order thinks fit — whether that's working in a hostel for homeless young people in Southwark, teaching at the order's boarding school in Yorkshire, or working as a prison chaplain. Agnes is half French (her mother was French, her father Anglo-American). At an early age she made a wealthy but unfortunate marriage to a violent man. When she fled from him, she became a nun. Her life still tends to be full of conflict as she struggles with the restraints of religious life. She has taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and yet she loves fast cars, designer clothes and good food. More than anything, obedience does not come easily to her.

The Quick And The Dead

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The Quick and the Dead coverAgnes is working in the hostel for young homeless when Sam — one of their female residents, who had just turned sixteen — runs away. Agnes feels responsible because Sam's case team had been trying to return her to her family. Furious with the authorities, Agnes tries to track her down. She finds Sam living at an anti-road protest camp at the edge of Epping Forest, delighted with her new home, her tree-top house and new friends. But only hours after Agnes arrives at the camp, a body is found in the woods. It is Becky, one of Sam's friends, and she has been brutally murdered. Agnes's suspicions are further aroused when the man claiming to be Sam's birth father reappears in her life, having been absent for the last fourteen years, and tries to persuade her to come and live with him. Agnes feels she must protect Sam from further danger. But who killed Becky? And will they come back for Sam?

"Alison Joseph certainly knows how to spin a good yarn and to keep several strands of it going at once.... She manages to interweave her cosmic questioning deftly into the rest of the plot, so that Sister Agnes's struggles are almost on a par with the rest of her investigations, and until the last two pages, the outcome is in doubt." — The Church Times

"A novel of stylish assurance... instilled with an urgent sense of the complexities of urban existence...." — Birmingham Post


A Dark And Sinful Death

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A Dark and Sinful Death coverAgnes has been sent by her order to Yorkshire, to teach in their expensive convent boarding school. One night Agnes is called to the art room, where she finds Joanna Baines, the art mistress, surrounded by black paint and desecrated paintings. The next day a young man, Mark Snaith, is found murdered on the moors, his face horribly mutilated. The man Snaith worked for is William Baines, owner of Allbright's mill, still one of the main employers in the area. When Agnes visits him, he denies knowing Joanna Baines with a vehemence that astonishes her - especially since she is certain he is lying.

"Set against the background of complex family histories, this is a richly-woven tapestry of several stories that interconnect in often unexpected ways. Thought provoking and packed with parallels to the King Lear story, it explores grief, anger, madness and love." — Manchester Evening News


The Dying Light

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The Dying Light coverAgnes has never felt the need for a wimple to express her spirituality. But her strength is tested by her secondment to Silworth, a South London women's prison. She does, however, find the work compelling, as she attempts to negotiate the network of bullies and victims, loyalties and hatreds, prisoners and jailers, searching to understand the often violent histories that lie behind each woman. Then the father of Cally Fisher, one of the most turbulent inmates, is shot dead... the chief suspect Cally's boyfriend. And — reminded unnervingly of how she is losing her own mother, who is rapidly retreating from reality in a French nursing home — Agnes finds that she too has become entangled in a dark world that stretches further than the prison walls...



Many of the following novels will be republished as ebooks in the coming months.

The Night Watch

The Night Watch coverSurely the whole point of golf is that it's difficult to know where the ball will go. So it's highly unlikely that, when an errant golf ball hits Matthias Kavanagh in the head causing a fatal riding accident, someone actually intends to kill him. But Sister Agnes Bourdillon can't help thinking that his death is the result of foul play, especially when she learns that another rider was injured in a similar incident only days before. Reason tells Agnes she's wrong, but as a nun she can't accept that the universe is governed by such cruel randomness. Another death is enough to convince her that a killer is at work. But, consumed by doubts and deserted by those she most depends upon, she'll need to delve deep into her reserves of ingenuity and strength to establish not only the truth about what she's sure is murder, but also the foundations of her own beliefs.

Darkening Sky

Darkening SkySister Agnes is about to take her final vows, but is worried about giving up all her earthly possessions. If she ever leaves the convent, how would she survive with no home and no finances? However, Agnes's concerns are put into perspective when Walker Hogen, a lodger at the hostel for addicts in London at which she works, is found dead. When Walker's handsome brother William turns up at the funeral and announces that he believes Walker's death was no accident, he enlists Agnes's help in tracking down the killer. By tracing Walker's childhood friends and comrades in the Falklands War, Agnes stumbles on Walker's own writings of horror and revenge on an unnamed man. Agnes feels she is beginning to pick up the trail of truth. Darkening Sky is a cleverly realised novel for our times, based on the moral dilemmas of Dante's Inferno.

A Violent Act

A Violent ActSister Agnes is back at the Order’s hostel for the homeless. When Abbie, one of the residents, is found dead from a drugs overdose, her friends are convinced it’s accidental, as they assure Agnes she had no reason to be suicidal.

But Agnes is full of doubt, although as her friend Father Julius suggests, perhaps it’s more to do with her own state of mind, having taken final vows but still fearing that her decision to be a nun is about running away.

Then an old associate of her father’s appears in her life, wanting to give her back her father’s writings. They’re an odd collection of works from his last years in America, before he died, asserting that the Biblical account of creation is literally true. It is a side of her father that is new to Agnes, and sets in train a re-examination of her own unhappy childhood.

When another of the hostel residents is found dead, Agnes is drawn into the investigation. She finds herself trying to see a pattern in random events, just as her father was convinced that God created the fossils in the crust of the earth.

This story is about how our belief systems shape our behaviour, how the stories we tell ourselves influence our actions, sometimes in dangerous ways.

Shadow of Death

Shadow of DeathAgnes is up to her neck in books. Having been asked to help sort out the library of the nearly defunct Order in Bermondsey before the building is sold, she is trawling through piles of tatty Victorian and mawkish lives of the saints. However, the 17th-century Hawker archive, a collection of beautifully preserved books on spells and magic as well as hand-written journals, does catch her eye. These tell the story of Alice, her husband Thomas and their daughter, who died in infancy. Alice did not long survive her.

Alice’s story seems to haunt the present. The building, now an NHS day centre for the mentally ill, is the backdrop for a modern mother’s fears for the safety of herself and her child. Agnes is increasingly drawn into the predicament of Tina-Marie and her daughter Leila as well as Alice’s narrative. The line between past and present becomes hazy as Tina-Marie, like Alice before her, is prey to the men in her life and depression.

When unexplained and horrible things start happening and Agnes becomes convinced that buyers are after something more than the obvious in the Hawker archives, she hurries to protect Leila and lay some ghosts to rest.


The following novels are no longer in print:

Sacred Hearts - the first Sister Agnes story

Sacred Hearts cover
Agnes Bourdillon is in London, having left an enclosed order to join another, open order. She is living in a tiny bedsit and working in a hostel for homeless young people. Then she hears that Hugo, her ex-husband, has been charged with murdering his second wife Philippa. She finds herself drawn back into his life, back to the lavish Gloucestershire home he shared with Philippa, back to his spoilt, selfish behaviour, his potential for violence. She finds herself caught up in the moneyed social circles he frequents, where nobody is what they seem. But it is with the dispossessed, the homeless rural youth, that she seeks out the truth about Philippa's murder. Because, despite everything she knows about Hugo, she believes him to be innocent.

"The debut appearance of an appealing clerical detective..." — Publishers Weekly

"First-novelist Joseph writes with such pointed authority..." — Kirkus Reviews...

The Hour Of Our Death

At the Hour of our Death coverThe fragility of human existence is a familiar fact of life for all who work in the London teaching hospital of St. Hughs, as Sister Agnes, standing in as a hospital visitor, well knows. But when an assistant in the Pharmacology department collapses at her desk, apparently from a drugs overdose, it seems to Agnes that her sudden death is being handled with indecent haste. Agnes's doubts are heightened when she meets Kathleen McAleer, an elderly patient whose power of speech has been affected by a stroke, but who manages to convey to Agnes that she saw a murder. When Agnes discovers the hospital has managed to fake the post-mortem results, she knows she owes it to the shadowy victim to find out what lies behind her death. From the bleak tragedy of a lonely woman, Agnes finds herself drawn into the subtle, bitter politics of the medical fraternity. And when she meets handsome but sinister Alexander Jeffes, a portrait painter who has been commissioned to paint the Professor of Surgery, she is caught up in conflicts of her own. This novel touches on themes of representation, of the relationship between art and medicine, of the body as a site for investigation.

"Art, passions and dark family dynamics feature in this well-wrought second mystery by Alison Joseph." — Publishers Weekly


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