Categories
Reverend Mother series

Reviews of Death of a Prominent Citizen

Historical Novel Society

This puzzle mystery is a sheer delight

I have read the six previous installments in this series and, from the outset, I must say that this is my favorite yet—the Reverend Mother plays Clue with her family!

The Reverend Mother’s wealthy widow cousin, Charlotte Hendrick, is not exactly beloved by her other cousins. Charlotte asks these seven to meet in her expansive Cork home for an overnight family get-together. The purpose for the meeting: each of them is to present a case for being named as the sole beneficiary of Charlotte’s will. This is a shock since each of the cousins had anticipated a one-seventh share of Charlotte’s estate. Certainly the Reverend Mother’s school could use that money.

During the night, Charlotte is murdered, the victim of an attack with half of a deadly sharpened craft scissor owned by her live-in companion, a cousin who would be left poor and homeless without her share of the estate. This cousin appears at first to have every reason to kill Charlotte—but did she? Or was it one of the riverfront rioters who murdered a man that night?

This puzzle mystery is a sheer delight, and the Reverend Mother’s critical thinking hat is always on straight. The cousins are each drawn with a fine pen, and Harrison’s typical cast of characters, set in an early 20th-century Cork where poverty and violence are common, lends yet other layers of detail and flavor. Even if you haven’t read the others in the series, I would advise you to jump in here! Highly recommended.

Link: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/death-of-a-prominent-citizen-a-reverend-mother-mystery/

Publishers Weekly starred review

“Fans of historical puzzle mysteries will be delighted.”

Cora Harrison. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8924-9

Set in early 1920s Cork, Ireland, Harrison’s seventh Reverend Mother whodunit (after 2018’s Murder at the Queen’s Old Castle) stands out as her trickiest yet.

For many years, wealthy Charlotte Hendrick has declared that her estate will be divided equally among her seven nearest relatives, including her cousin the Reverend Mother, who intends to donate anything she might receive to her convent.

Then Mrs. Hendrick’s attorney informs the seven heirs that she has had a change of heart—his client intends to disinherit six of them and leave everything to the one who proves him- or herself most worthy. The seven agree to make their best case to Mrs. Hendrick at her house, spend the night, and hear her announce her choice the next morning. In the middle of the night, someone slashes Mrs. Hendrick’s throat in her bedroom.

Harrison adroitly combines the Reverend Mother’s clever investigation with a sympathetic portrayal of the plight of Cork’s poor.

Fans of historical puzzle mysteries will be delighted. 

Agent: Peter Buckman/Ampersand Agency (U.K.). (July)

Link: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-7278-8924-9


KIRKUS REVIEWS

A classic golden-age mystery whose shocking solution will appeal to fans of Christie and Sayers.

Money is the root of all evil, according to the Reverend Mother – but is it the motive for her cousin’s murder?

Wealthy widow Charlotte Hendrick had always promised that her riches would be divided equally between her seven closest relatives when she died. Now she has changed her mind and summoned her nearest and dearest, including her cousin, the Reverend Mother, to her substantial home on Bachelor’s Quay to inform them of her decision. As Mrs Hendrick’s relatives desperately make their case to retain a share of her wealth, riots break out on the quays outside as the flood waters rise …

The following morning, a body is discovered in the master bedroom, its throat cut. Could there be a connection to the riots of the night before – or does the killer lie closer to home? In her efforts to uncover the truth, the Reverend Mother unearths a tale of greed, cruelty, forbidden passion … and cold-blooded malice.


Net galley reviews

Meredith R, Reviewer 5 stars

This is book 7 in the Reverend Mother series, but it easily works as a standalone.

In the middle of the night, wealthy Charlotte Hendricks has her throat slit. While it’s possible that the killer is an outsider, the book has the feel of an Agatha Christie-ish locked-door mystery. There are plenty of interesting suspects. So who is it?  

THE SUSPECTS

It could be . . .

Julie Clancy, the long-suffering unpaid companion/servant of her cousin Charlotte, will be destitute and homeless  . . .

Lucy is financially secure, but she would do anything to help her daughters be safe, secure, and spoiled with lovely things. But does anything include murder . . .?

Claude’s pub/club is almost bankrupt . . .

Brenda wants to restore her husband’s wine business . . .

Florence is the orphaned niece of Brenda. She has grand dreams of touring Russia and Europe to study art. But travel is expensive . . .

Professor Hendrick is Charlotte’s favorite. He plans to do archaeological research into the Viking influence in their area. Everyone expects that she will leave all the money to him, but what if she changes her mind? She might live another decade or more . . .  

And the bedroom window is open, with a rope hanging down the side of the house. After all, that night, violent men protested against this hated landlord’s house while the guests pitched their ideas. Could the killer have come from the outside?

THE DETECTIVE(S)

Even the Reverend Mother has a motive: that money would help build houses for the destitute she sees each day.  But from the start, we know she is an upright character who won’t stoop to murder. The police investigator, Patrick, is one of her former students and he allows her to assist him in the murder investigation because of her level head and observant behavior.

While the Reverend Mother is clearly the heroine of the story, I have to give Patrick his dues. He investigates every possible solution and refuses to allow social class or money to influence his behavior, even when pressured by his supervisor. I liked him a great deal.

I also liked Eileen, a university student, newspaper writer, and former IRA member who has been helped by the Reverend Mother. Her keen eye for details and lively personality are helpful in the investigation. (I “shipped” her and Patrick. I strongly suspect that the Reverend Mother finds the idea amusing, too. These two need to be in a romantic relationship.)

Reverend Mother won my sympathy on page one with her discomfort at a committee meeting dealing with the slum clearance in Cork. She’s horrified by the statistics of how many families live in this unlivable slum. I admired her willingness to work in these conditions, given her advanced age and the feeling of futility that often accompanies the fight against poverty.

THE VICTIM

Most of the committee members are less than sympathetic. These people claim to care about the poor, but it’s obvious that they don’t. They use churchy language to justify their idiotic and unchristian attitudes toward others. And no one is more guilty of this than the Reverend Mother’s cousin, the reviled landlord Charlotte Hendricks.

Charlotte is a victim you’ll love to hate. The woman is despicable even before she shows up on the page, and even more so when she deigns to make an appearance and disparage all except the professor’s ideas. So when she dies, well, no one’s exactly grieving. (Except the Reverend Mother, who does say the prayers for the dead for the woman.)

THE SETTING

The tension is thick throughout this book. Floods threaten to overrun the Quay and damage the crumbling slum houses. A Viking exhibition turns into a drunken protest against poverty. The IRA shows up, much to witness Eileen’s horror. I was almost breathless as Eileen described the scene, especially when violence broke out.

Cora Harrison captures post-independent Ireland in all its complexities. Freedom from England hasn’t brought all the happiness and prosperity that the rebels promised. The gap between the wealthy and poor grows larger every year. Even those sympathetic to the poor don’t know what to do. And the poverty is heartbreaking.

Yet there are glimmers of goodness in this squalor. Patrick’s insistence on an impartial investigation. Eileen’s courage. A city developer’s passion for building new homes for those in the slums. And when eight children return home from school to find their widowed mother has died in childbirth, the Reverend Mother helps them find new homes. Neighbors who have next to nothing generously take in these orphans. Their generosity stands in contrast to the wealthy’s tight-fisted control.

THE SOLUTION

The book’s ending satisfied me. Oddly, this suspect had briefly flitted through my mind, but the author deftly bounced me around with other possible solutions. Even 95% of the way through the book, I didn’t know the ending to this whodunit. Cora Harrison knows how to build a well-constructed plot!

RECOMMENDED for historical mystery fans, any mystery fans, and anyone interested in 1920s Ireland.

I received a copy of this book from Severn House and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

(Note: This review will appear on my blog on July 6, 2020.)

 Amy O, Librarian 5 stars

The city of Cork, Ireland, in the 1920s plays a major role in this newest volume in Cora Harrison’s Reverend Mother series.   A house party given by  Reverend Mother’s cousin to determine which relative will inherit her fortune ends in murder on a stormy night that floods the city’s quays, whips up violence against slumlords and highlights the plight of spinsters dependent on the kindness of relatives.   All the regulars of the series appear: Mother Superior’s former students Eileen, subsidizing her university education as a newspaper reporter, and Patrick, who leads the murder investigation; Dr. Sher and childhood friend Lucy.   The solution is a real surprise.

 Kathleen Carrow I, Reviewer 5 stars

Huge thanks to Severn House, Cora Harrison, #NetGalley for this advance copy of #Death of prominent Citizen. I adore this series, Reverend Mother Mystery #7, and found myself unable to put this book down, except to sleep. The period detail and the characters are so entrancing to me, not the least as details I know happened to my ancestors are unfolded. What a terrible time for all but the upper class citizens at this time, the immediate aftermath of the Irish Civil War.   “Money is the root of all evil, according to the Reverend Mother – but is it the motive for her cousin’s murder?”   Wealthy Charlotte Hendrick, first cousin to the Reverend Mother and 6 others, was not a warm character as well as being a slum landlord. She decides to change her will and exclude 6 of her cousins and invites them to her mansion to “present their cases” on what they would do with an inheritance. The evening of the presentation falls on a night of riots on the nearby quays and in the morning Reverend Mother finds her cousin deceased with her throat cut.   Was this an outside murder related to the landlord riots or was it a distraught relative who did not want to be disinherited.?Reverend Mother, Inspector Patrick Cashman with his Sergeant Joe and Dr. Scher spend the following week finding the murderer. Of course Reverend Mother figures it out and it was a completely unexpected ending- but VERY satisfactory! Love this series.

 Joyce F, Reviewer

224 pages   5 stars   Very wealthy Charlotte Hendrick changes her mind about her will. Instead of leaving equal shares to her seven closest relatives, she decides she is going to invite them all to her home to have them plead their cases for the money and the “winner” will get it all. This, of course, upsets the relatives, one of whom is the Reverend Mother.   They all attend an uncomfortable evening in which each person pleads their case.   The Reverend Mother is awakened during the night by a noise and in the morning Charlotte Hendrick is found dead with her throat cut. Inspector Patrick Cashman is called to the scene. Immediately, Patrick and his Sergeant Joe begin their interviews of the still present relatives. Mrs. Hendrick was unpopular with her tenants. She was a slumlord who had little respect or concern about her tenants. She didn’t care about the sad conditions of the homes and did very little to care for their upkeep. Did one of the tenants murder her? Or, was it one of the disappointed relatives?   The ending of this book took me completely by surprise.   This is perhaps my most favorite book of Ms. Harrison’s Reverend Mother series. It is well written and well thought-out. I truly enjoyed this book. I really like the level-headed Reverend Mother and she is still as sharp as a tack for a woman of her mature years. I like Patrick and Joe as well. However, Eileen drives me a little crazy. She picks some bad men friends and seems to make some pretty uninformed decisions. But she is young yet…   I want to thank NetGalley and Severn House for forwarding to me a copy of this very great book for me to read, enjoy and review.

 Jennifer C, Reviewer Four stars

‘This is a strange business, isn’t it?’   Ireland, in the 1920s.  Charlotte Hendrick is a wealthy widow, living in a substantial home on Bachelor’s Quay in Cork.  She’s always said that her wealth will be divided equally between her seven closest relatives when she dies.  But she’s changed her mind.  Her relatives, including the Reverend Mother, are summoned to her home.  Mrs Hendrick wants each of her relatives to make a case for why they should be the sole beneficiary of her will.  The person she adjudges the winner will inherit it all.   And so, after an uncomfortable evening during which different family members make their pitch, the guests retire for the night.  In the meantime, there are riots on the quays outside as recent flood waters rise.   The next morning, Charlotte Hendrick is found dead.  Who killed her?    Was her murder connected to the riots on the quay?  And what impact might her murder have on her will?   Inspector Patrick Cashman is called to the scene.  And just after he starts speaking to those in the house, Mrs Hendrick’s solicitor arrives.   Although this is the seventh novel in the Reverend Mother series, it is the first of the series I’ve read.  It can definitely be read as a standalone.  There is no shortage of suspects: there are seven people who stood to benefit from Mrs Hendrick’s estate as well as numerous tenants to whom she was an indifferent slumlord. Set in post-independent Ireland, this is a tense and engaging story. The contrast between wealth and poverty, heartbreaking but hamstrung efforts to replace slums with new housing.  I didn’t work out who killed Mrs Hendrick until the end.   I’ve read quite a number of Ms Harrison’s novels over the years (piecemeal, from different series as I can lay my hands on them).  I’ve enjoyed each one of them, and this is no exception.  Carefully plotted and well written.   Highly recommended, especially to readers of historical mystery.
Categories
The Gaslight Mysteries

THE GASLIGHT MYSTERIES

Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

Introducing Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins as an unusual detective duo in the first of a brand-new Victorian mystery series.

Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and Wilkie Collins in 1824 and so there was twelve years difference between them.

That was not all, though. Dickens had a very different upbringing. He was the son of a ne’er-do-well spendthrift who landed himself in a debtors’ prison and condemned his son to years of working in a blacking factory whereas Wilkie was the son of a prosperous artist and was deeply loved and much indulged by both parents.

Nevertheless, when they met in 1851 they were drawn together by their shared love of amateur dramatics and Charles Dickens became a great influence in Wilkie Collins life, advising him on his literary ambitions, providing him with a job and a salary and much valuable experience while working on a journal edited by Dickens.

On his side, Dickens got great pleasure from the lively humorous young Wilkie Collins. They went on holidays together on the continent and Collins was invited to Dickens holiday home in Broadstairs by the sea in Kent.

But it was the long walks that the two took through the length and breadth of London by night that cemented the friendship and it was these long walks through the gas lighted streets which inspired my own imagination to invent some mysteries which might have been solved by these two friends. The first is set by the Thames and involves the murder of a girl whom Dickens had known when he was involved in the charitable enterprise to rescue young prostitutes newly released from prison and educate them to befit them for a new life in Australia. The second deals with the artists of the period. The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, friends of both men, and the third will deal with one of Dickens amateur dramatics set in the magnificent of castle of the well-known Lord Edwin Bulwer-Lytton.

View books in the series

Categories
Season of Darkness

Season of Darkness

By Cora Harrison

Published July 2019. 240p. Severn, $28.99 (9780727888761); e-book (9781448302154)

Starred Review by Booklist

Booklist Starred Review

The rebellious Isabella left the cottage with her friend Sesina, and the pair found jobs as maids in a London boarding house. The night she died, Isabella told Sesina she was going to meet a man who would give her the life she had always dreamed of having. Of all the cases in which Dickens has been involved, this is one of the most byzantine. Just when he and Collins think they know who Isabella’s killer is, they find they’ve been lured into pursuing false leads. A surprising conclusion, coupled with vivid characters, authentic period details, and a constantly zigzagging plot, makes this a good choice for fans of historical murder mysteries.

Categories
Winter of Despair

Winter of Despair

Winter of Despair

A Gaslight Mystery #2

By Cora Harrison

Published September 30, 2019

Wilkie Collins must prove his brother is innocent of murder in the second of the compelling new Gaslight mystery series.

November, 1853. Inspector Field has summoned his friends Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to examine a body found in an attic studio, its throat cut. Around the body lie the lacerated fragments of canvas of a painting titled A Winter of Despair.

On closer examination, Wilkie realizes he recognizes the victim, for he had been due to dine with him that very evening. The dead man is Edwin Milton-Hayes, one of Wilkie’s brother Charley’s artist friends. But what is the significance of the strange series of faceless paintings Milton-Hayes had been worked on when he died? And why is Charley acting so strangely?

With his own brother under suspicion of murder, Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens set out to uncover the truth. What secrets lie among the close-knit group of Pre-Raphaelite painters who were the dead man’s friends? And who is the killer in their midst?