Columbus-based author Patricia Sargeant’s new novel, Mayhem and Mass, has more layers of mystery to it than just the plot — like why Sargeant based it on the Dominican Sisters of Peace, what motivates her characters and why a cat adorns the front cover.

Sargeant shared the answers behind those mysteries during a book signing at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse in Akron on Sunday afternoon.

Mayhem and Mass, which was released in December, is the first book in a series that follows the main character, Sister Lou of the fictitious St. Hermoine of Ephesus, as she takes a murder investigation into her own hands.

Sister Lou’s character is based on Sister Mattie Sterner, a real sister of the Dominican Sisters of Peace whom Sargeant met about seven years ago when the two worked at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus.

There, Sargeant found inspiration for her story in the sisters’ kind nature and courage.

“There are so many things about the congregation — its history, its sisters, its members — that inspired me,” Sargeant said to her audience of about 30, many of whom were part of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. “You’re fearless. I love your minds, I love your courage, but most of all, I love your joy, your warmth and your welcoming hospitality. You put people first. That’s one of the things I noticed with Sister Mattie [Sterner].”

Sterner, who also lives in Columbus, was at the book signing as well. Sargeant described her inspiration behind the book and answered questions, while Sterner delivered the history behind the Dominican Sisters of Peace to give the story context.

“What we preach and what we teach is pretty much rooted in the belief that we are saved,” Sterner said, explaining the Sisters of Peace’s beliefs about God. “We’re not working on our salvation. We don’t really even know all the mystery of our salvation … so we live the mystery, and we allow that to inform our thinking.”

Sargeant and Sterner began working on the book together back in 2015.

Sargeant said one of her main inspirations for writing the book was to dispel stereotypes she sees in media portrayals of Catholic women.

“One of my motivations is that I truly believe society has done a great disservice by the negative stereotypes that are attributed to Catholic religious women,” Sargeant said. “Catholic women are often depicted as mirthless, judgmental, ill-informed people who are relegated to the shadows and are concerned only about the past. It’s very disheartening, because I know that the sisters are amazing, brilliant, courageous, warm and welcoming people who are very involved and outspoken in our communities.”

Released under the pseudonym “Olivia Matthews,” Mayhem and Mass has seen modest initial success, retaining a position on the Barnes and Noble mass market mystery best-sellers list for six weeks.

But no success comes without at least some struggle.

At the end, when audience members asked questions, one person asked why a cat was on the front cover of the book.

Sargeant revealed that the cat was a designer choice, although there isn’t one in the story. And yet, the same cat is slated to be on the cover of the second book, Peril and Prayer, when it is released in July.

Although she already finished Peril and Prayer, Sargeant is currently trying to write a cat into that story to fit the cover.

It’s a story that got a laugh out of the crowd, revealing a slice of the complications authors can face.

But the misstep didn’t dampen Sargeant’s spirit. The series was initially planned as a trilogy, but after her position on the Barnes and Noble charts, she said she anticipates being able to write at least another four books.

“With the way she talked about the different characters, I’m just excited to be able to read it,” said Margaret Durkin of North Canton, a Dominican Sisters of Peace associate who lined up to buy six copies of the book to share with others. “I’m not really a novel person ... but this book sounds like it’s really going to be alive.”

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.