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Reverend Mother series

Murder In An Orchard Cemetery

1920s. Cork, Ireland. The Reverend Mother is not best pleased at the bishop’s decision to invite the five candidates for the position of Alderman of the City Council to join them for their annual retreat. Constantly accosted by ambitious, would-be politicians hoping to secure the bishop’s backing, she’s finding the week-long sojourn at the convent of the Sisters of Charity anything but peaceful. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.

When a body is discovered in the convent’s apple orchard cemetery, blown to pieces by a makeshift bomb, it is assumed the IRA is responsible. But does the killer lie closer to home? Was one of the candidates so desperate to win the election they turned to murder? Does someone have a hidden agenda? Once again, the Reverend Mother must call on her unrivalled investigative skills to unearth the shocking truth.


Reviews from:

“excellent”

In Harrison’s excellent eighth novel set in 1920s Cork, Ireland (after 2020’s Death of a Prominent Citizen), the Reverend Mother Aquinas normally looks forward to the annual weeklong spiritual retreat for the religious superiors of all the Cork schools as a welcome break from her busy routine because of the restriction of absolute silence.

But this year, with a mayoral election looming, the bishop has decided to invite all five candidates to attend, including a shoe manufacturer and a female solicitor with IRA links, and to allow people to talk about the many vital issues facing the still young Irish republic.

At the retreat, the Reverend Mother is downcast by indications that the vote appears susceptible to being “stage-managed by violence on one side and corruption upon the other.”

The gathering turns deadly after a bomb set in a cemetery located on the retreat site detonates, killing one of the mayoral hopefuls. Though the police suspect the IRA, the Reverend Mother, a plausible and accomplished sleuth, digs deeper.

The pacing, clueing, and characterizations are all top-notch. Father Brown fans will be in heaven.


A historically interesting mystery with a wise, empathetic sleuth and a shocking denouement.

Reverend Mother Aquinas shows once again that she’s never at a loss when it comes to closing cases of murder in 1920s Cork.

The Reverend Mother usually enjoys the bishop’s yearly retreat for religious superiors featuring silence, prayer, and meditation. This year, though, he’s invited the five candidates for alderman, all of whom are vying for his support. Finding the whole process annoying, the Reverend Mother spends much of her time in the delightful orchard cemetery of the Sisters of Charity. As she gossips in French with Mother Isabelle, she notices a freshly dug grave near her seat. When wealthy James Musgrave, one of the mayoral candidates, whose daughter is a novice at the convent, is blown to pieces while sitting in the very same seat, her former pupil Inspector Patrick Cashman relies on her connections to help solve what at first appears to be an Irish Republican Army killing. Eileen, the Reverend Mother’s star pupil, who’s now a reporter attending law school, gets a tip that at least one of the other candidates may not be what he seems, and another is a known supporter of the IRA. Respected by both Cork’s wealthy families and the poor of the city, the Reverend Mother has a special conduit to information that could solve a murder with many possible motives.

A historically interesting mystery with a wise, empathetic sleuth and a shocking denouement.


“a treat for Irish history buffs”

Harrison follows Death of a Prominent Citizen with another leisurely paced mystery with roots in the history and culture of Cork. It’s a treat for Irish history buffs who follow the series.


“Harrison does an excellent job”

It’s Ireland in the 1920s, and although the war is over, the IRA is still active and there is great poverty. This underscores Murder in an Orchard Cemetery by Cora Harrison, the eighth in the Mother Superior Mystery Series.

Harrison does an excellent job of weaving history and some regular characters into the plot with just enough description so that the reader has no difficulty understanding the area or the people and the book can easily be read as a standalone. 

The plot moves at a measured pace throughout the book and, while it is easy to determine the identity of the murderer, that does not lessen enjoyment of the book. Mother Superior is a kind, gentle woman who puts a benevolent face on a classic Roman Catholic character. In this novel she is attending an annual retreat which is normally reserved for the Bishop and other heads of Catholic convents. While the retreat is normally a silent one, this year the Bishop has invited the candidates who are running for alderman to join the group and therefore rescinded the order for silence, Mother Superior is quick to point out that far from seeking religious renewal, the candidates are there to curry favor and often she remarks about how she longs for the silence of previous retreats.

There is great poverty in the area, as well as much disease and a marked separation between the wealthy and the poor. There has been a recent epidemic of diphtheria and when the disease is reported to be active once again Mother Superior becomes concerned both for her convent, the children they care for and the novices of the convent hosting the retreat. Her concern for the novitiate of the convent is in stark contrast to their Mother Superior who is a cold, rigid woman.

The murder of one of the candidates is significant to the host convent as he was the father of one of the novices. She is young, thin, and appears to be in poor health which concerns Mother Superior although her counterpart does not share these sympathetic feelings. As Mother Superior tries to secure some assistance for the young girl, she contemplates who might have killed the man. Is the IRA responsible for his murder or is someone else, hoping the IRA will be blamed? Perhaps his murder has more to do with politics. Is one of the other candidates so desperate to win the election that they are willing to kill the competition? Or is it because the victim has recently been rumored to be engaged to a rich widow who had been thought to be preparing to marry one of the other candidates? 

Chapters focusing on Mother Superior and her thoughts are interleaved with chapters that provide information about the investigation through the actions and thoughts of two recurring characters. Inspector Patrick and Eileen have both been watched and shepherded through school and a successful scholarship application. Both Inspector Patrick and Eileen are recurring characters, both of whom have been known to Mother Superior since they were young children.

Readers of the series will likely enjoy the opportunity to spend time with characters they have come to know and appreciate. Newcomers may enjoy the book as a standalone, but not feel the connection to recurring characters they might have felt had they invested in the series. For readers who are seeking a new series and prefer mysteries that focus on the investigative aspect as well as general thoughts on the part of the more central characters, this is a fine book to read and assess their interest in continuing with the series.


Member Reviews

Kathleen Carrow I, Reviewer

Possibly the best Reverend Mother mystery yet ( or do I always say that)? Reverend Mother and her cousin Lucy remind me so much of me and my cousin Patricia, same age, Irish and our memories of everyone.   “When a body is discovered in the convent’s apple orchard cemetery, blown to pieces by a makeshift bomb, it is assumed the IRA are responsible. But does the killer lie closer to home? Once again, the Reverend Mother must call on her renowned investigative skills to unearth the shocking truth. ”   Yes this setting is a convent, although a large important one, with an annual retreat convened by the Bishop of Cork. Unfortunately, on this one political candidates for Alderman are included. This certainly confuses this issue which the Reverend Mother is able to untangle and show as a family issue.   Happily regular characters Cousin Lucy, Patrick, Eileen and Dr. Scher are called to assist. Awesome read!!

Gail B, Reviewer

This is the eighth in The Reverend Mother series and Harrison does an excellent job of weaving history and some regular characters into the plot so it’s not necessary to have read the first books in the series. Those people who like series may still prefer to read the books in order so they have the opportunity to experience relationships as they grow.   The plot moves at a measured pace throughout the book and it was easy for me to determine the murderer’s identity.Mother Superior is kind and presents a bright mind that is talented at unraveling mysteries. She is on a typically silent retreat, but this year the Bishop has lifted that requirement so politicians attending can plead their case with other attendees.   The murder of one of the candidates was the father of one of the novices who is  young, thin, and appears to be in poor health. Mother Superior worries for her health and for the coldness shown by the head of the girl’s own convent and host of the conference. Possible suspects include politics. Is one of the candidates so desperate to win the election that they are willing to kill the competition? Or is it because the victim has recently been rumored to be engaged to a rich widow who had been thought to be preparing to marry one of the other candidates?   Two other recurring characters are Inspector Patrick and Eileen, and they have both been watched and shepherded through school and a successful scholarship application  by Mother Superior. Their thoughts and activities are interleaved with the chapters focusing on Mother Superior.   My thanks to Canongate Books Severn House Publishing for providing an advance copy for review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Pattie A, Librarian

Another comfortable read by Cora Harrison. I love how the independent findings of all the characters culminate into the solving of her murder mystery case. What I found amazing was that this is the eighth novel of the  Reverend Mother Mystery series and it does not diminish in being an unique and enthralling read.   I thank NetGalley and Severn House Publishers for an eARC of this book

 Reviewer 266180

Another Worthy Addition…. A Reverend Mother historical mystery, and the eighth in this series, which finds the Reverend Mother’s annual retreat rudely disrupted. With a compelling plot, well researched historical commentary, credible characters and solid sense of place this is an atmospheric and engaging mystery. Another worthy addition to the series.

 Amy O, Librarian

Church and state combine for murder in the latest Rev. Mother Aquinas book.   The Bishop has called his school and religious leaders to a retreat at a convent high above Cork, Ireland, of the 1920s to evaluate the five candidates for city council. When the Bishop’s favorite is murdered, there is no shortage of suspects, including the four other candidates.   Cora Harrison illustrates the dangers of life in Ireland after the country was divided into north and south. Did the IRA do it? Was the murdered a victim of class hatred? And where does Sister Mary Magdalene fit into all this?