Sunday, April 9, 2023

#1940Club: Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd

Murder in a Nunnery is a humorous story of a death that takes place in a girls school run by nuns and how the crime is eventually solved by Scotland Yard in cooperation with the nuns and some of the older students. 

I read this book for the 1940 Club, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings

Summary from Ostara Publishers:

In the fictional Harrington Convent one of its more challenging inhabitants, Baroness Sliema is found murdered, Chief Inspector Pearson of Scotland Yard is called to solve the crime. He discovers the Convent is governed by a particularly shrewd and omniscient Reverend Mother and we meet a varied and entertaining cast of characters observed with wit and charm. Shepherd describes the world of a Convent with its colourful, and in some cases unlikely, inhabitants with sympathy and humour making for a gentle and entertaining tale.

The murder victim, Baroness Sliema, was living at the convent in the last years of her life. She is an obnoxious rich old woman, mean to her companion, Mrs. Moss, and her ward, Miss Venetia Gozo, a lay-teacher of languages at the school. She is not well liked by the students or the nuns. When she is murdered in the chapel, the nuns are dismayed but not surprised. Scotland Yard is called in to investigate, and the man in charge is Chief Inspector Andrew William Pearson.

The school has students from many countries, children who have been brought up in different cultures. Mother Trevor even mentions that "it would be rash to assume that none of the children has ever knifed anybody.” This is quite shocking to Inspector Pearson who seems to be very innocent. 

My initial thought was that the story was too light-hearted and almost flippant about the religious school setting, but it wasn't that way at all. It is a cozy read, on the light side, fun but filled with interesting information about the setting and the times.

This is a fair play mystery; all the clues and information that the police gather are shared with the reader. But the mystery is not the strongest part of the plot. The story was more about the nuns and their daily life, and the students, who don't take the murder too seriously. Inspector Pearson finds the setting and the people in the school and the nunnery surprising and enlightening. And we get all of this in a novel under 160 pages in length.

There are some wonderful characters: Verity, a student, who excels in getting in trouble; Mr. Turtle the gardener; the Reverend Mother and Mother Trevor; and Inspector Pearson.

The author wrote only two mysteries, both set in the same convent. The second book, More Murder in a Nunnery, was published 14 years after this first book, but set only two years after the events of the first book. 

It was Constance at Staircase Wit who motivated me to read this book, and I thank her for that. My interest in books set in religious settings has been rekindled. 

Also see reviews at these blogs for more information: Pretty Sinister Books, Clothes in Books, Past Offences, and Classic Mysteries.


Publisher:  Dell, 1957. Orig. pub. 1940.
Length:     158 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Harrington Convent, #1
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy.


Bill Selnes said...

Nuns have fun. I had 3 Aunts who were Catholic sisters. Each had an excellent sense of humour and a strong sense of social responsibility. Sister Margaret was working with immigrants who fled the Vietnam war when she was in her 80's. Humour in the convent sounds very plausible to me.

neer said...

You are lucky to have read it Tracy. I must double up my efforts to find a copy of it.

CLM said...

So glad you enjoyed this, Tracy! One of the reasons I like this is that authors sometimes make fun of nuns or think they are necessarily naive. The librarian who handed me this book belonged to the Religious of the Sacred Heart and told me that the author's sister was a member of this order at a school in England. She felt that gave him the understanding to write the book from *inside* the convent. And, of course, he flips the characters - the Inspector is innocent and the Reverend Mother is delightfully cynical.

A great choice for the 1940 Club!

pattinase (abbott) said...

This sounds charming. I like books about dogs and nuns especially. Growing up near a convent, I was fascinated by the serenity they seemed to have.

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, this does sound like an enjoyable novel, Tracy. The setup is appealing, and there's something about convent life that lends itself to many different kinds of novels. I like the sound of the Mother Superior, too. Glad you enjoyed it!

TracyK said...

Bill, Thanks for those comments. I enjoyed hearing about your aunts who were Catholic sisters. I have little experience in real life with Catholic organizations at all. Only in books that I have read.

The first book I read this month was Bad Faith by Aimee and David Thurlo, and the main character is a nun in a cloistered monastery in New Mexico. She is one of two extern nuns, and goes out of the monastery to take care of business for the monastery. In the first book the monastery acquires a Harley Davidson motor cycle with a sidecar that she drives. And they adopt an older police dog who rides along in the car. She, and the other nuns in the book, are great characters.

TracyK said...

Neeru, I am very glad I chose this book for the 1940 club. Unfortunately my old Dell paperback was in bad condition and started falling apart while I was reading it, which made it an uncomfortable read.

There is a reprint edition from Ostara Publishing which I considered a bit price, and for the second book, More Murder in a Nunnery, I decided to get the Kindle edition, which was still more than I wanted to pay, but worth it I think.

TracyK said...

Constance, it certainly seems like the author of this book has an understanding of the monastic life. And I liked especially that the Inspector had no idea what life inside a convent would be like, and gets to know the nuns and the students as he investigates the crime.

I like your comment about how the roles are reversed between the Reverend Mother and the inspector. He says in the end that he had prejudices about nuns when he first entered the monastery, and soon learned how wrong his prejudices were. That was one of my favorite parts of the book.

TracyK said...

Patti, it is a charming story. I was mentioning in another comment that I just read a book, Bad Faith, that had both nuns and a dog, and I enjoyed it very much. And the monastery did seem like a good environment, away from the world. In that book, the nuns did have to worry about supporting their monastery, making enough money to continue and getting support from donors.

TracyK said...

Margot, it was a good read and different from what I expected. A lovely book. I am going to have to make a list of books about clerical sleuths to read.

Lark said...

A light and fun mystery sounds really good to me. Especially one with nuns in it. :D

Cath said...

I absolutely love the sound of this and am off to look it up. My 1940 read is Bleeding Hooks by Harriet Rutland a fishing crime yarn. Sadly my week is quite busy so it's probably the only book I'll be able to read for the 1940 Club.

TracyK said...

Lark, for the last year light books have been my preferred reading. There are plenty of good ones out there and I have read new authors I never tried before. And I do like books with nuns in them.

TracyK said...

Cath, I was very pleased with this book, both the subject matter and the coziness.

I have three books (on the Kindle) by Rutland and Bleeding Hooks is one of them. I will be looking forward to your review. I plan to do one more 1940 book, The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B. Hughes. I hope I can finish the review in time.

Simon T (StuckinaBook) said...

Thanks for adding this one to the 1940 Club! It sounds like the title came first - but I'm glad it lived up to the fun idea!

kaggsysbookishramblings said...

Oh brilliant! A book and author I hadn't heard of - what a great find! And it does sound very entertaining - will definitely keep an eye out for it!

TracyK said...

Simon, Thank you for checking out my post. I had so many options on my TBR shelves for 1940, and I am glad I chose this one.

TracyK said...

Kaggsy, this mystery is not very well known, for sure. It was reprinted but the reprint is relatively expensive. My old Dell copy fell apart while I was reading it. But it was worth reading it, even so.

Carol said...

I love these old murder mysteries but I've only ever read one book on Kindle & really don't find it comfortable. I might just have to get used to it!

TracyK said...

Carol, Thanks for commenting here. I checked out your blog and enjoyed some of the posts. I will be back to look for more.

I understand about not liking to read books on Kindle, I avoid it myself. I mostly like to read at night and if I read ebooks at night it keeps me from sleeping. Right now I am reading The Echoing Strangers on the Kindle for a group read because any other copy is just too expensive.

For Murder in a Nunnery you might be able to find some copies used for less though.