Thursday, July 4, 2013

Review: St. Peter's Finger

Mrs. Bradley is called in to investigate the death of a student at a convent school. Ursula Doyle is found dead in a bathroom. Her death is ruled a suicide, but the nuns are not convinced. Mrs. Bradley is given full run of the convent, and it becomes clear that the death is likely murder. Mrs. Bradley's own life is clearly in danger, as are those of Ursula's two cousins, also students at the school.

This was a rather delightful mystery. It is complicated, and there are numerous characters. I didn't figure out the solution in advance, but looking back I could see that Mitchell provides the clues. She offers plenty of red herrings.

I've read a number of books about convent life and schools during this periods, and the characterization of this one is decidedly different. Mitchell's convent is a warm and benevolent place. The children receive plenty of affection from the nuns, and students and nuns alike are generally happy. Even the orphans who are being groomed for domestic service content. That's a far cry from the cold and miserable convent schools that appear in so many other early-twentieth century novels and memoirs. Admittedly, Mitchell is primarily interested in crafting a mystery, and that she does well.

Gladys Mitchell, St. Peter's Finger (orig. 1938) ISBN: 0312001924 

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