Cat Among the Pigeons (1959) by Agatha Christie; read by Hugh Fraser
We open at the beginning of the summer term at Meadowbank, the British girls' school--the one every mother is anxious to get her girl into. Miss Bulstrode, the founding headmistress, is preparing to retire and name her successor. She watches with anticipation as the new group of girls arrive. These include Princess Shaista, a disconcertingly mature Middle Eastern princess; Julia Upjohn, a girl whose aunt has paid the fees so she can attend the exclusive school; and her new friend Jennifer Sutcliffe, who spent the summer in the Princess's kingdom of Ramat. There are also several new staff members in residence including the inquisitive new French instructor, the equally nosy new games mistress, and Miss Bulstrode's new secretary as well as a brand new sports pavilion that is the pride of the school.
Over the summer, there was a revolution in Ramat and Prince Ali Yusuf, the endangered ruler, had entrusted both his jewels and his life to his friend and pilot, Bob Rawlinson. Bob successfully concealed the glittering treasure amongst his sister and niece's possessions (that would be Jennifer and her mama) while they were away from their hotel room, but the two men perished when their plane crashed in the escape attempt. Rawlinson wasn't able to deliver a message indicating where the jewels were hidden, so no one knows their whereabouts. Or do they?
Not long after the school year begins, things take deadly turn when Miss Springer, the games mistress is found shot to death late one night in the new pavilion. What was she doing at the sports pavilion at one o'clock in the morning? And why would anyone want to shoot her? The police investigate, but cannot find anything of interest in the building--so, if there was anything then it was taken by Miss Springer's killer. The first death is followed by another (in the pavilion!) and a kidnapping. It isn't until Julia Upjohn is wise enough to figure out what the killer is looking for and then consults her aunt's friend Hercule Poirot that they are able to spot the "cat among the pigeons."Dame Agatha never ceases to entertain. This book has it all...international espionage, missing jewels, kidnapping...and, of course, murder. It was truly delightful to take a break from James L. Swanson's Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer for a little mystery and mayhem in a British girls' school. Working at an educational institution myself, I always enjoy a good academic mystery. It's a bit disappointing that Poirot comes in late to the game, but when he does his little grey cells are firing on all cylinders and he soon gets right to the heart of the matter. I really liked Julia and the way she puts two and two together to solve part of the mystery. As always, Dame Agatha pulls off a bit of sleight of hand and had me suspecting the wrong person. One of these days, I'll guess correctly. ★★★★
First line: It was the opening day of the summer term at Meadowbank school.
Last line: "A most unusual woman."
Deaths = 6 (two plane accident; two shot; two hit on the head)