Welcome to my new murderous feature for 2015, which will replace my Mondays with Marple series from last year – Mondays are for Murder! I have grown so fond of murder-mysteries over the past few years that I decided I couldn’t just restrict myself to Agatha Christie (although I will certainly still feature her works) and had to branch out into other murder-filled tales.
You may also notice another bright image at the top of this post – when you see this image on one of my posts this year it will indicate that the book being discussed is from somewhere in my teetering TBR pile. I really let things go a bit last year, pre-ordering and winning and gathering more books than I was able to get to and now things have gotten a bit out of control. So this year I am committed to working through the pile, even as I gather more tomes. Wish me luck.
Today’s Monday is for Murder features a Victorian murder mystery for the YA market: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry.
When Mrs Plackett, the headmistress of St Etheldreda’s School for girls drops dead in her roast dinner, swiftly followed by her brother Aldous, her seven young charges make an impulsive decision to hide the murders (as they undoubtedly appear to be) in order to prevent being sent home. But this is easier said than done, when a whole host of guests turns up at the door moments later expecting to be admitted to Aldous’ surprise birthday dinner. After fending off the unwanted intruders and keeping their macabre secret safe, the girls are then drawn in to the practicalities of disposing of the bodies, putting off the hired help, and running the school on Mrs Plackett’s dire finances. As problems (both living and deceased) pile up around them, the girls are no closer to catching the murderer – but will a dalliance at the Strawberry Social shed light on the riddle of the dead Placketts? Or will the girls’ cunning venture be uncovered as their plans go awry?
Well, aside from the seven young ladies, whose names are helpfully prefixed with adjectives to assist the reader in separating one from t’other, we have the slightly distasteful local Doctor, the farmer’s boy who harbours a romantic attachment to one of the young ladies, the weasel-faced solicitor’s assistant whose intentions no one is sure of, the hired help whose mother is ailing, the landlady of Aldous’ boarding house and the un-put-offable matronly friend of Mrs Plackett, plus a variety of hangers-on and village folk. Oh, and there’s a mysterious and handsome young man who makes a few appearances to muddy the waters (although keen-brained readers – and I include myself smugly among their number – may well figure out who he might be before it is officially revealed).
The Hunt for the Murderer/s:
Right at the beginning of the story, Mrs Plackett and her brother Aldous are murdered (or so it would seem) by poison. The resulting chaos that hiding these murders causes rather puts the hunt for the murderer on the backburner for most of the book. In fact, while I was reading I often forgot that the girls were intent on investigating these murders given all the other dilemmas they found with which to occupy themselves. I suspect that solving the murders wasn’t high on their to-do list either. But eventually, the murders are in fact solved. But not in the way one might expect from a whodunnit type of story.
Three poison bottles for a mildy disorienting reading experience
While I generally enjoyed this book, its focus is more on the hiding of the deaths than on solving any murders. The first few chapters read like a Victorian “Weekend at Bernie’s” with a comedy of errors playing out as the girls attempt to hide their newly deceased guardians from a parade of pushy adults. I did get a perverse giggle out of the burial process selected by the young ladies and there were a few other points in the book at which I released an audible guffaw. The reveal of the murderer and the supposed “riddle” of the doubloons definitely took a backseat to the developing comaraderie of the girls and I felt the book suffered for that a little, but if you go into this knowing that the mystery isn’t the main element of the story, you shouldn’t find much to dislike.
I did, however, pick up – don’t ask me how, perhaps it was some bizarre sixth sense of Britishness – that the author was not British, despite this book being set in England and this subtle disorientation annoyed me at various points throughout the story. Irrational, I know, but there you have it.
This story is definitely worth a look if you enjoy historical fiction with a good dose of general silliness and interference with a corpse. Or two.
Until next time,