LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[A visiting Baroness has been murdered in a convent]
Observing the blade, the Inspector asked: “Was it a deep stab?”
Both doctors answered at once. “No. Hardly did more than perforate…. And you should have seen the stays the old girl had on! More like plate armour. Shock was really what bumped her off….”
[The Baroness’s companion, Mrs Moss, is questioned by the police]
“We have it from you that the late Madame Sliema had on various occasions expressed some fear of being stabbed?”
Mrs. Moss broke down again. “It’s true, sir—as God sees me….”
“That is exactly what he is saying,” said Reverend Mother.
“She had even,” suggested the Inspector, “gone the length of taking certain precautions in her—ah—dress?” Mrs. Moss looked horrified at this remote allusion to such a subject as stays, but inclined her head.
[At the inquest, the question of the stays comes up again]
Some spice was lent to the proceedings, however, by a long discussion of stays, and Madame Sliema’s reasons for wearing such very ‘valiant’ ones (the term was the Coroner’s). The Coroner was not without a sense of his duty to the public in such a case as this, and his knowledge of ‘artificial supports’ appeared to be large. A special edition of the evening papers went quickly off under headlines:
NUNNERY MURDER MYSTERY
CORONER ON STAYSMrs. Moss, supported into the box with smelling-salts and brandy, was embarrassed almost into a swoon as she listened to Dr. Goodall and the Coroner exchanging badinage about her late mistress’s stays.
commentary: The moment when you realize that this is going to be an unusual book is when the policeman investigating a murder at a convent school says (in proper GA honourable manner) that he assumes
“we can pretty well rule out the youngsters [as murder supsects]?”
But Mother Trevor, with that faintly worried look of hers, could not suppose anything of the kind. “Oh no, I don’t think you can do that. I will speak to Reverend Mother. But you must remember we are a very cosmopolitan school—very; we have children from all over the world. Some of the countries one cannot even pronounce. I am afraid it would be rash to assume that none of the children has ever knifed anybody.”[It doesn’t matter greatly, but it is clear she is not being racist, but respecting the customs of other cultures, including that of the young schoolgirl who is very pious but likes to keep a dagger in her stocking.]
The book is light-hearted and very funny: a horrible old woman has been murdered and the policemen become increasingly befuddled by the jolly atmosphere at the convent, and the attempts by the girls to find ghostly nuns….
There is a strange scene where the Inspector creeps into an unmarried female teacher’s bedroom in the middle of the night and crawls around on all fours: he is expecting to find her gone (he is wrong, of course), and at first I completely misunderstood this: I thought he suspected her or immorality. But no, just straightforward nefarious criminal activities.
Even the dead woman’s son doesn’t seem heartbroken about the murder:
“This crime,” he said, “it is very curious—yes? True, my mother was a disagreeable woman, but in a Convent one does not kill even these.”The solution won’t come as a huge surprise, but the journey there has been good fun.
Blogfriends John over at Pretty Sinister Books , and Rich at Past Offences, have both reviewed the book: both posts highly recommended, and John’s contains a fair bit more info about the book. And our very own Lucy Fisher has this remarkable input:
Eric Shepherd taught at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton in the 30s. My mother was at the school - she is Verity! I have a copy of "More Murder in a Nunnery" somewhere... All I can remember is that Verity finds a corpse hidden in a compost heap and can tell by its flat feet that it has never worn shoes. (I never read the first one.) I went to the same school (after it moved to Surrey), and tales of ghostly nuns were still current - and superstitions about shoes.And well done to Ostara publishing for reprinting (is that the word if it’s on Kindle?) this little gem.
The investigating schoolgirls were rather like the students in Mavis Doriel Hay’s Death on the Cherwell, recently on the blog, and have made me think about the whole question of student/young person sleuths - blogpost coming soon... early comments and suggestions welcome below.