Alfred J. Garrotto is a native Californian who now lives in Pittsburg, CA. In addition to writing novels, he is a freelance writer and manuscript editor (need help?). He also serves as a lay minister in a Roman Catholic parish in the Oakland (CA) Diocese. Please visit his website and blog:

The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

by Alfred J. Garrotto          e-mail:

A Roman Catholic nun, Mother Marie-Thérèse, is the surviving victim of one of Belgiumís most notorious crimes, involving kidnap, torture, and murder. It all took place in enchanting, picturesque Bruges, Belgium, the Venice of the North. Her co-victim, an American priest, Father Thomas Jensen, did not survive. Although his body was never found, Piet Van Kampen confessed to killing the priest, for which he received a life sentence without parole. Twenty years later, on the day after the convicted killer's death, journalist Célèste De Smet draws a career-making assignment, an exclusive, first-ever interview with the nun. Reeling from the day-old breakup of a long-term relationship, Célèste arrives at the motherhouse of the Servant Sisters of Jesus and Mary in Florenville, a town in Southeastern Belgium. She expects to spend an afternoon with the nun and be on her way back to the capital. Mother Marie-Therese (Tesse) has a different plan. She bargains with Celeste for an exchange of life experiences, the reporter's for hers -- in that order. Caught off-guard by this unexpected request and a possible delay in her return to Brussels, Célèste weighs her options. She chooses the interview's career potential over her reluctance to open her life to this stranger. Thus begins a cycle of deeply personal revelations that will occupy the two women for several days. Célèste outlines her youth and upbringing, including a secret vow made to God and broken. In return, Tesse responds to the reporterís opening query, how she and Fr. Jensen happened to be in Bruges together on the day of the kidnapping. Tesse then gets Célèste to discuss an unresolved adolescent trauma. The reporter has carried the guilt and shame of being responsible for her missionary priest-uncle's leaving the active ministry and marrying an African woman who was pregnant with his child. Célèste has never spoken of what she considered triggering incidents that occurred when the priest was visiting the De Smet family. In return, Tesse relates details of her and Tomís captivity, including repeated druggings and physical abuse. Sensing that Célèste has yet another secret to tell, Tesse coaxes her to share it, using as bait the promise to reveal the one final piece of her own Tesse-and-Tom story. Unable to resist, Célèste agrees. But she is unprepared for the shock of Tesseís final revelation. Having received the information, the reporter fears that curiosity might have involved her in an ongoing crime that could cause her to lose everything.

About the Author

Alfred J. Garrotto lives and writes in the San Francisco (California) Bay Area. The Saint of Florenville is his 6th novel and 10th book. A 16-yr. member of the historic California Writers Club, he has served two terms as branch president and currently sits on the advisory board of directors. He also serves as a lay minister specializing in adult faith formation in a vibrant Roman Catholic parish.

5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbingly beautiful love story, September 20, 2011

G. Murphy - Like a lotus flower that grows out of the mud and blossoms above the muddy water surface, Alfred J. Garrotto's 'The Saint of Florenville', beautifully and tenderly illustrates how two stricken souls rise above the defilements and sufferings that befall them in this harrowing and shocking tale, and go on to reclaim their dignity in a fresh - albeit unusual - manner. But most of all, the novel, written in vivid and fluid prose, is true to its subtitle: it is a 'love story' of the most tender and profound kind. Set in Belgium's "Venice of the North" - Bruges - and in the bucolic border town of Florenville, this dark account of the kidnap and subsequent horrendous abuse of an American priest and Belgian nun, is in essence a love letter to the indomitable and resilient power of the human spirit. And a testament to the omnipresent and immanent Grace of God.

4.0 out of 5 stars A Deeply Moving Story, September 16, 2011

Marlene Dotterer - The Saints of Florenville is a story-within-a-story that kept me coming back every chance I got. Celeste and Tess are two of the most powerful characters I've come across in my reading. I felt like I was with them every step of the way. The story is gripping and disturbing, but lets you see the strength of true, deep love. This is a story I will think about for a long time.

There are minor dialogue and point-of-view problems, which keep me from giving it five stars. But these are infrequent and only slightly distracting.

Highly recommended.

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Love Story, September 16, 2011

Katie Q - The Saint of Florenville is a wonderful love story with a great twist. The author leaves you continually thinking of what is going to happen next. A real page turner. I highly recommend it.

5.0 out of 5 stars A page-turner, September 11, 2011

Harlan Hague - This is a gripping love story set in Bruges and a convent in the south of Belgium. Love of a different sort, love that has no bounds and no conditions. The story is well-crafted with strong characters, and the writing is inspired. Be prepared for a challenge for the story is cerebral. The book is steeped in suspense, and it is a page-turner. I was prepared to give it a week of casual reading; I finished it in two sessions. Highly recommended. Harlan Hague, Ph.D.