When an overbearing headmistress and her odious brother drop dead, seven Victorian schoolgirls decide to run their school without adult interference.
It’s an ordinary Sunday dinner at Saint Ethelreda’s School for Young Ladies until Mrs. Plackett and Mr. Aldous Godding choke on their veal and fall over, dead as a pair of unpleasant doornails. All of the seven students at Saint Ethelreda’s, from Dull Martha to Dour Elinor, are horrified at the notion of their inevitable separation. Once they tell the authorities about Mrs. Plackett’s death, surely they will all be sent back home to their dreadful families and shunted off to far worse schools. All seems lost until Smooth Kitty asks the others, what if they just don’t tell the authorities about their headmistress’s untimely demise? What follows is classic farce, as the young ladies spend the rest of that evening desperately hiding the corpses and their headmistress’s absence from an unprecedented stream of callers. Stout Alice is disguised as Mrs. Plackett, Disgraceful Mary Jane initiates the garden gravedigging, and Pocked Louise helpfully adopts a puppy. A third of the way through the novel, the breakneck shenanigans abruptly settle, becoming merely the backdrop of a fairly classic drawing-room mystery. The young ladies are charming and their problem-solving ingenious, though the epithets used to describe them—it is never “Roberta,” always “Dear Roberta”—get old very quickly.
Droll farce yields to intriguing mystery, leaving the seams between them showing. (Farce/mystery. 11-13)