A fifth case for Reverend Mother Aquinas, of St. Mary’s of the Isle Convent, strikes shockingly close to home.
Newcomer Sister Gertrude’s ample figure and fondness for sweets might have doomed her to health problems in her declining years if she hadn’t died at 22 in the convent’s hen shed. Since dealing with the deceased already plays so large a role in Reverend Mother’s ministry (A Gruesome Discovery, 2018, etc.), she’s able to maintain her decorum and keep her wits about her as she slowly and patiently gathers information about the circumstances leading up to the novice’s death. Sister Gertrude had been ill following yesterday evening’s meal, where she’d eaten exactly the same thing as Sister Bernadette, Sister Mary Immaculate, and all the rest. The cause of death was alcohol poisoning even though Sister Gertrude was dead set against drinking. Does her demise have some connection to that of her father, prosperous factory executive John Donovan, whose liver failed him only a few months ago and who left his entire estate to Gertrude’s sister, Betty Kelly? Or are larger-scale forces at work here, forces that have revealed themselves most recently in the links between the Irish language lessons Sister Brigid and Sister Joan, two other novices, were taking at St. Ita’s School and an explosion Sinn Féin contrived that’s destroyed the considerable arsenal on Spike Island? While everyone else in 1925 Cork has the luxury of fretting over the troubled relationship between the infant Irish Free State and the hated English, Reverend Mother, with the help of former Sinn Féin member Eileen MacSweeney and Inspector Patrick Cashman, must struggle to determine how, or whether, this latest fatality fits into a larger pattern.
A thin mystery with forgettable suspects and a tangled conclusion make this one of Reverend Mother’s lesser efforts.