Publishers Weekly starred review
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)
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?
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?
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.
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 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 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.|