Sister Lucy came into the Parlour with Sister Gertrude. They bowed slightly, then sat down, hands clasped together in front, and looked at him expectantly.
Sloan undid a brown-paper parcel he had brought with him.
“This habit. Can you tell me anything about it?”
Sister Lucy leaned forward, and Sloan got a good look at her face for the first time. The bone structure was perfect. He didn’t know about Sister Anne, but Sister Lucy would have cut quite a figure in a drawing-room. He tried to imagine hair where there was only white coif now. With Sister Gertrude it was easier. Hers was the round jolly face of a “good sort”, the games mistress at a girls’s school, the unmarried daughter…
“Yes, Inspector, I think I can.” Sister Lucy’s voice was quiet and unaccented. “This is the spare habit that we keep in the flower room. Should any Sister get wet while out in the grounds she can slip this on instead while she asks permission to dry her own habit in the laundry. It is kept behind the door on a hook.” She turned it round expertly. “You see, here is the hook. It is very old and worn now, but none the less blessed for that.”
observations: This is a book left over from a flurry of nun activity earlier in the year. Margot Kinberg featured it on her splendid Confessions of a Mystery Novelist website in January, and I was writing about nuns for the Guardian newspaper’s books blog.
Not that I need excuses – I love books about nuns, any kind, and murder stories are particularly good. There have been a few already featured – two books (under different author names) by Jane Haddam, Sister Agnes in London – and maybe one day we can get round to Antonia Fraser’s seminal Quiet as a Nun.
In this one the nuns are not the detectives: this is the first of Catherine Aird’s books, and she introduces her solid coppers, Sloan and Crosby, who are an entertaining pair. They won’t change much over the series of books, but at least (unlike most fictional sleuths) they are not busily having dreadful private lives, problems with alcohol, corruption and disastrous past cases. Though there is a very odd moment in this one in which our lovely reliable inspector arranges a sheet round his wife’s head in bed in order to see what she’d look like as a nun… it’s quite an uncomfortable gesture.
There’s a nice picture of a business and businessman:
Not closed minds, if you know what I mean. They’re not entirely convinced that one computer will do the work of fifty men, but if you prove it to them they’ll buy the computer and see the fifty men don’t suffer from it.All in all an entertaining read, without being disturbing or over-exciting or too involving – just what you need sometimes.
The picture is from the Northern Ireland Record Office.