Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Murder in a Nunnery

Murder in a Nunnery (1940) by Eric Shepherd takes place at the Harrington Convent School. The Baroness Sliema is found murdered on the steps of the St. Joseph altar in the convent's chapel and Chief Inspector Pearson is surprised to find that passions and motives abound in what he expected to be a quiet, chaste little community of nuns. Mother Peck, the Reverend Mother Superior in charge of the convent, soon puts him straight:

There is rancor and ill will in a Convent as outside. I myself have a shocking temper.

She also tells him that while the Baroness may have been patron to the convent, the woman was a nasty piece of work who collected enemies like some people do stamps. The Baroness's ward and secretary Venetia resents her interference in her love-life. Her son resents her clasp on the purse strings. And her down-trodden companion resents the way she treats the young Baron (who she nursed as her own when he was small). The nuns don't care much for her interfering ways and general unpleasantness. And no one is particularly saddened by the Baroness's untimely demise.

The Reverend Mother and her students seem to be a lot more worldly than the gentlemanly Inspector Pearson. Pearson is almost diffident and apologetic in his dealings with the nuns and it's amusing to watch him pussyfoot his way through his investigation. He is definitely out of sorts when he sneaks into Venetia's bedroom (sure that she is not there and is, in fact, roaming the convent disguised as a nun) and finds her chastely in bed. 

The students are very interested in the murder--but are even more interested in the ghostly nun observed by one Verity on the night of the murder. Verity turns girl sleuth and hunts for clues. Her disregard for convent rules and regulations has her posing for pictures and giving all the gory details to a pack of journalists. One of whom produces a scrap of nun's veil that he found in the garden while lurking in hopes of someone like Verity coming along to give them a story. She passes the scrap along to the Inspector..and is rewarded for her resourcefulness by being taken into Pearson's confidence. He requests that Mother Peck allow Verity's bed to be moved to the window so she can watch for a reappearance of the ghostly nun.The scrap of cloth and a lingering scent that Pearson's superior olfactory senses finds attached to it and wafting throughout the vital scenes will lead him to the culprit once he determines whether the ghostly wanderer is one of the nuns or someone else in disguise.

This a funny, comedy of manners style of mystery. Great fun and easily read in one sitting. It was amusing to watch Pearson's interactions with the convent community and Mr. Turtle, the gardener, is quite easily the best of the bunch. He is a very down-to-earth character full of common sense...and his heirloom timepiece plays a vital role in verifying the time of the attack. ★★

Other reviews may be found at Pretty Sinister Books, Classic Mysteries, and Past Offences

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