Categories
Reverend Mother series

A Shocking Assassination

A Reverend Mother series book by Cora Harrison

The second book in the Reverend Mother series

Ireland. 1924. Reverend Mother Aquinas is buying buttered eggs in the Cork city market at the very moment when the city engineer, James Doyle, is assassinated. Although no one saw the actual killing, a young reporter named Sam O’Mahony is found standing close to the body, a pistol in his hand, and is arrested and charged.

Following a desperate appeal from Sam’s mother, convinced of her son’s innocence, the Reverend Mother investigates – and, in this turbulent, war-torn city, uncovers several other key suspects. Could there be a Republican connection? Was James Doyle’s death linked to his corrupt practices in the rebuilding of the city, burned down more than a year ago by the Black and Tans? Cork is a city divided by wealth and by politics: this murder seems to have links to both.


Reviews

Harrison does an even better job of integrating a fair-play mystery with the tensions of early 1920s Ireland… Well-drawn characters, including a lead capable of sustaining a long series, complement the clever plot – Publishers Weekly starred review

Although it is never a good idea to learn history from fiction, one of the many gifts of historically-based fiction is its ability to inspire curiosity about a past time or place and to evoke a sense of that world and its people. I knew only a ghost of a smidgeon about modern Irish history, but this mystery quickly drew me into the time, its tensions and disasters. The strife between various factions is not only background, but an integral part of the murder – or is it an assassination? – that sets everything in motion. Exceptionally well-drawn characters, a rich setting teeming with possible motives, twists I did not see coming, and a satisfying if heart-wrenching ending made this mystery set in 1924 Ireland a great read. – Debora Ross, Good Reads

Period ambience, an absorbing plot, and a wise and intrepid amateur sleuth in the form of the Reverend Mother make this an engaging historical mystery.”–Booklist

Reverend Mother series

Categories
Reverend Mother series

A Shameful Murder

The first book in the Reverend Mother series

Click here for the first chapter and links to reviews

A Shameful Murder

A SHAMEFUL MURDER

Chapter One

ONE

St Thomas Aquinas:

Videtur quod voluntas Dei non sit causa rerum.

(It can be seen that the will of God is not the cause of things.)

It was Reverend Mother Aquinas who found the body of the dead girl. It lay wedged within the gateway to the convent chapel at St Mary’s of the Isle, jettisoned by the flood waters. For a fanciful moment she had almost imagined that it was a mermaid swept up from the sea. The long silver gown gleamed beneath the gas lamp, wet as the skin of a salmon, and the streams of soaked curls were red-brown just like the crinkled carrageen seaweed she had gathered from the windswept beaches of Ballycotton when she was a child. Her heart beating fast, the Reverend Mother unlocked the gate and looked down at the sightless blue eyes that stared up from beneath a wide, high brow, at the blanched, soaked flesh of the cheeks and knew that there was nothing that she could do for the girl. She bent over, touched the stone-cold face and then with a hand that trembled slightly she signed the forehead with a small cross. The Reverend Mother had seen death many times in her long life, but in the young she still found it was almost unbearable.

Click here to read more

Harrison combines a savvy detective and a setting fraught with intrigue and tension for another winner“–Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Mistaken identities, strange twists, an intelligent and likable heroine, and a tragic tale of sex, greed, and betrayal–make sure your historical mystery readers get this one on their radar“–Booklist Starred Review

“Recommend for Dicey Deere fans or readers who enjoy M.C. Beaton and Carol Higgins Clark“–Library Journal

What unfolds is a superbly crafted mystery that makes fine use of its locale and the diverse characters living there: the moneyed elite who attend the annual Merchants’ Ball, lecturers from the University College, and the energetic young people who fight for Ireland’s future by joining the illegal Republican Party.“–Sarah Johnson, book review editor for the Historical Novels Review.

This is a terrific read, carrying you along on the ride. Highly recommended.“–Historical Novel Society 

Categories
The Gaslight Mysteries Summer of Secrets

SUMMER OF SECRETS: Cora Harrison talks to Crime Time

Cora Harrison talks to Crime Time:-

Crime Time: Summer of Secrets

This book is inspired by my interest, not just in Charles Dickens and his friends, but also in Ellen Ternan whose name is so connected with his. So, who was Ellen Ternan? A huge majority of the English-speaking population of the world would probably say that she was an actress who became Charles Dickens’ mistress, but I am convinced that she was not his mistress, but his daughter.

Oddly, I originally came to this opinion from what one might call the internal evidence. I was rereading A Tale of Two Cities and for the first time was suddenly struck by the enormous force of the emotion in the scenes where an adult daughter and father meet for the first time. And Lucy in A Tale of Two Cities was physically almost the exact image of Ellen Ternan: ‘A short, slight, pretty figure, a quantity of golden hair, a puzzled expression and a pair of blue eyes . . .’

Dickens, I’ve always felt, writes poorly about love between a man and a woman – Lucy’s relationship with Charles Darnay is cardboard sentimentality – but he writes with great intensity about this relationship of a father and newly-found daughter. Dickens, himself, states that the idea of writing A Tale of Two Cities came to him in 1857 which was the year when he first took over the role of protector of the Ternan family, Mrs Frances Ternan and her three girls, Fanny, Maria and Ellen.

‘Young enough to be his daughter’ say various reproving voices of biographers.

But could Ellen Ternan, in fact, be his daughter? Do dates make it possible, or even feasible?

Ellen was the youngest of three children. Her mother, Frances, married Thomas Ternan in 1834 but he died of syphilis in 1846. The link between Frances Ternan and Dickens was an actor called Macready. He was one of Dickens’ best friends and a very good friend and patron of Frances Ternan who had acted with Macready since her earliest years playing opposite to him in many Shakespearean plays – Ophelia to his Hamlet when she was younger and then Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother in the same play many years later.

In May 1837 Catherine Dickens suffered a miscarriage after the tragic and sudden death of her seventeen-year-old sister, Mary Hogarth. Dickens took his wife to Broadstairs seaside to recuperate but he himself travelled up and down to London, staying overnight in order to visit the theatre and see his friend Macready. He would certainly have met Frances Ternan at that time.

The following January Dickens resolved to keep a diary. He went to Yorkshire to investigate schools and began to write Nicholas Nickleby, which is suffused with a sense of theatre throughout. The Crummles theatrical family, along with that memorable character ‘The Infant Phenomenon’ (the two elder Ternan girls had been on the stage since the age of two), has now become a household name, but it probably shows the influence that the Ternan family had upon him. Dickens writes in his diary about attending a banquet in honour of the actor Macready and it is very likely that the Ternans were there, also. The interesting thing is that three pages have been torn out of this diary in January 1838. Could it have been something about Frances Ternan, which in view of later events, he decided to get rid of?

Ellen Lawless Ternan was born in March 1839, so where was Dickens nine months earlier, in June 1838? On 6 March 1838 Catherine, Mrs Dickens, gave birth to her second child Mamie and was plunged for months into that condition of physical debility and post-natal depression which had afflicted her after the birth of her first child, Charley.

This was possibly a time when Dickens, as a very vital and active young man, could potentially stray. Mrs Dickens was recuperating in the countryside in Twickenham where Dickens spent all his weekends, but he was up and down to the city of London on an almost daily basis. There are many recorded meetings with the actor Macready during the next few months and doubtless there would have been opportunities to meet Frances Ternan, a gifted actress from early childhood and an extremely beautiful woman, married to a bad-tempered, untalented failure of a man, who was now ill with syphilis. Dickens was an obsessive theatre fan, went two or three times a week. During that winter, in Drury Lane Theatre, Mrs Ternan had played Desdemona to the famous Kean’s Othello, while her husband played Iago – to extremely poor reviews. Dickens undoubtedly saw these performances and would have been sorry for Frances Ternan.

On 29 October 1839 Kate Macready Dickens was born, six months after the birth of Ellen. Portraits, I feel, show a resemblance between them, especially the ears and the nose. Kate was supposed physically and otherwise to resemble her father more than any of his other children.

In 1846 Thomas Ternan died of syphilis when Ellen was only six. He had been confined to a hospital for the insane for many years previously.

In 1857 Ellen Lawless Ternan was eighteen when she and her sister played parts, with Dickens, in the play The Frozen Deep which took place at the end of August 1857. At the end of the performance, Dickens gave Ellen Ternan a piece of jewellery – a brooch or bracelet. This came to Mrs Dickens’ notice and there was a huge row. Kate Dickens said her father ordered his wife to see Mrs Ternan – and this is odd, because it almost appears as though Dickens wants to make recompense to Mrs Ternan as well as to care for Ellen Ternan and to take her from the life on the stage which she hated.

In May 1858 Dickens decided to separate from his wife. He was an emotional man, but his fits of fury at the imputation that he was having an affair with Ellen Ternan seem excessive – if she were really his mistress. However, if she were his daughter, this would be more understandable, would make his almost hysterical behaviour much more reasonable. In my opinion, he behaved like a man who has been much wronged.

In 1858 Dickens set Ellen Ternan up in an establishment with her mother. It is now that he began writing A Tale of Two Cities – a story about a father and daughter who meet for the first time when the daughter is eighteen years old. Later he took a house for Ellen and her mother, in Slough and then in France. At the railway crash at Staplehurst, both Mrs Ternan and Ellen were present. In fact, right through the Dickens and Ellen years, Mrs Ternan appears to have been a constant presence.

In 1859 A Tale of Two Cities was published. It is a rather over-sentimentalized portrait of fatherly and daughterly love where the heroine bears a strong physical resemblance to Ellen Ternan.

Interestingly, it appears as if several people were in on the secret of the relationship. To one lady friend (a highly respectable Victorian lady, according to the biographer Peter Ackroyd) Dickens wrote that ‘Nelly would be distressed and embarrassed if she knew that you knew the secret of her history’. (NB not her position – her history. I think there is a significant difference.) Another lady, Mrs Fields – an extremely strait-laced American lady – wrote rhapsodically to Dickens about how he was going to see his beloved. (She was unlikely to refer to a mistress in those terms). She also hoped that despite ‘mistakes that he had made in the past’ (perhaps having an affair as a young man) that he would now be happy.

One of things that struck me, and partially led me to this conclusion, was that Peter Ackroyd, a meticulous and tireless biographer, was totally puzzled about the relationship that Dickens had with Ellen Ternan and eventually came to the conclusion that it was a non-consummated relationship – something he deemed as very odd! Interestingly enough, he didn’t take that sideways step, which I have taken; less odd, I think, than the guess that a highly sexed man like Dickens would live with a pretty young girl in a ‘non-consummated’ relationship.

No, I think Dickens was the father, not the lover, of Ellen Ternan, and didn’t want to destroy his relationship with his public (and Queen Victoria) by confessing to the affair with an actress. He also didn’t want to attract shame on to Mrs Ternan, but otherwise wanted to make it up to his illegitimate daughter. It is somewhat overlooked, I feel, that in making provision for Ellen, he also cared for Mrs Ternan.

I am fairly sure that he confided the secret to his sister-in-law, Georgina and to his daughters, Kate and Mamie before he died. They summoned Ellen to his deathbed. Afterwards they were very friendly with Ellen Ternan who went on to make a good marriage with a clergyman. She had children with him, although she was then in her late thirties which makes one wonder why, if she were Dickens’ mistress, she did not have children by him. Despite much research no one has ever found any evidence that there was a child.

Henry Dickens, Dickens’ youngest son, had children who went to a birthday party held for Ellen’s children, which, once again, makes me think that the Dickens family all knew of the relationship. All that nonsense about Kate saying that there was a child and it died is just hearsay. It was quoted ten years after Kate’s death by a friend, an elderly woman (suffering from the early stages of dementia), who wrote, with the help of a journalist, a book called Dickens and Daughter and perhaps wanted to beef it up; probably she knew nothing as Dickens’ children and sister-in-law guarded his reputation with great care. Moreover, a scandal may have injured the huge sales of his books in this Victorian era.

Of course, no one will ever know for sure, but I do think that it is feasible that Dickens was Ellen Ternan’s father.

I would be so interested to know what others think of that and would love to hear from you on my website: www.coraharrison.com

SUMMER OF SECRETS by Cora Harrison is published by Severn House

Categories
The Gaslight Mysteries Summer of Secrets

Summer of Secrets

What they say about Summer of Secrets, the third in the Gaslight Mysteries series by Cora Harrison.

Review by Kirkus Reviews:-

Kirkus Reviews

An inspired premise and compelling characters make the third in this series the best to date.

Harrison continues the Victorian adventures of unlikely sleuths Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.

The more celebrated Dickens has taken Collins under his wing and procured an invitation for him to a house party at the estate of Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose literary work leaves Collins cold. The staid party is shaken up when Lady Rosina Bulwer-Lytton arrives after a long separation, part of which she’s spent in one of those posh lunatic asylums where unhappy men hide their troublesome wives.

Collins finds Rosina charming and takes her part against Bulwer-Lytton and his loathsome secretary, Tom Maguire, whom Rosina easily bests when he tries to get rid of her. Meanwhile, Dickens’ son Charley has fallen for Nelly, the lovely young actress who’s been hired along with her mother, the well-known actress Frances Jarman, to help stage one of Bulwer-Lytton’s plays, with guests playing the other parts.

Taking Bulwer-Lytton’s place at the dress rehearsal, Maguire is shot dead. Was he the intended victim, or was it a case of mistaken identity? Dickens and an estate dog he befriended saved Nelly from an attempted rape by Maguire that gives Nelly one motive and Rosina another. Resolved to protect them both for different reasons, Dickens and Collins cleverly misdirect the police as they seek a satisfactory solution.

An inspired premise and compelling characters make the third in this series the best to date.

Categories
Reverend Mother series

Reviews of Death of a Prominent Citizen

Seventh book in the Reverend Mother series

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

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

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

Cora Harrison writes:

Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins

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 mystery 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 mystery 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.

Cora Harrison

Note: the success of the series has prompted further books.

View reviews and books in the series

Categories
The Gaslight Mysteries 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
The Gaslight Mysteries 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?

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Gorgeous 2

Gorgeous by Cora Harrison Chapter One

Monday

SHE’S GORGEOUS, SAYS DIRECTOR!’ screams the billboard outside the newsagent shop in the main street of Castletown.

CASTLETOWN YOUNGSTER IN HIT MOVIE!’

LOCAL GIRL WOWS THEM IN LONDON!’ – the billboards outside the Spar Shop. There is a newspaper on the stand and I can see my name. ‘A fresh new talent…Agents queue to sign up beautiful young Fern Hamilton…’ The words jump out at me and I move away from the notice in the window quickly in case someone spots me staring at news about myself and start to run down the street. No more newspaper shops down this end, I think.

CASTLETOWN IS PROUD OF OUR FERN’ says a hand-lettered notice in the window of Morelli’s Ice-Cream Parlour.

I just stand there staring until the big black letters start to blur before my eyes. I’m dead tired. I only had six hours’ sleep last night as the plane from London was delayed by three hours. I’m a week late for the first day of secondary school –that couldn’t have been helped because of having to attend the opening night of the film and all the rehearsals – but I’d been hoping that I could creep in and get lost somewhere. No hope of that now!

My phone rings.  I take it out of my pocket. There’s a text message on it.

For a moment I wish she had rung and that we could chat but I knew that would have been too expensive and she may not have been allowed to chat on the phone at this hour of the morning anyway. Jessica is in an all-Irish-speaking boarding school at the other end of the country and the rules there are very strict. I think about telling her about the billboards but I haven’t the time so I just type in:

The clock on the main street is now showing 8.55. It should be safe to go into the school now. I daren’t be late, but I don’t want to be early either. With a bit of luck Zara and her friends won’t be in the playground.

‘Just go into the headmaster’s office,’ Mum said. ‘They are expecting you. I’m sorry I can’t take you, but I have had so much time off school recently what with your father’s illness. You know how it is, Fern.’

‘Fern!’ The scream was ear-splitting and there they all are: Zara, managing to look great in the dowdy navy-blue school uniform, Heather, her red hair redder than ever, Ann, Michelle, Emma, Katie, and what seemed like hundreds of other unknown girls.

‘Here comes the movie star, girls!’ Zara is shouting. I could feel my hands sweating. There was no chance now that I could just slip in. There was no chance now that I would ever make a friend. They would all be jealous and they would all tease me. My life would be a misery. Why didn’t Mum agree to let me go to the All-Irish Gaelscoil boarding school with Jessica? I didn’t care for Irish, much – probably it’s my worst subject – but at least I would have had had a friend! I push away the thought that I would have liked to be away from home for a while, also; away from the constant stress, the constant worry. It makes me guilty to be thinking like that. I should be thinking about my Dad, and how ill he is, and my Mum, not about myself.

‘You’re in our form, Fern,’ screams Zara. She lowers her voice just a little. ‘I asked my aunt – she’s the form tutor – I asked her to make sure that you were with us.’

Gorgeous
Gorgeous

‘I’ve got to go and see the headmaster,’ I say weakly. I can see everyone staring at me. There’s a big primary school a few miles from Castletown  – a village that has grown when Castletown stayed still – and most of the kids in the secondary school come from there. They’ve never seen me before, but they’ve all heard of me. Everyone is staring at me and I can guess what they’re thinking. Doesn’t look anything special, they are all thinking! Navy suits Zara with her blond hair and her blue eyes; it looks good on Ann, too – she has the same colouring, but it looks terrible on me. No one with green eyes and black hair should be made to wear navy.

‘Down this way, Fern,’ says Zara. ‘There’s the headmaster’s office. I wonder what he’ll say to you.’

‘Welcome to our humble school,’ giggles Ann. She used to be teased and left out of things at primary school, so I think she has made up her mind never to be at the bottom again. She will be as nasty to me as she can; I realise that. If someone else is the butt of teasing, then she won’t be. That’s the way things work when you are at school It’s no good grown-ups say things like: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, or else, do as you would be done by. Everyone is terrified of being bullied or teased so they will do anything that they can to be part of the ‘popular people’ gang.

The buzzer goes and they all run off. I can hear them giggling as they go down the corridor. There are a few boys there – not the football-playing crowd – and they stare at me and then look away. I can feel myself going red. I knock at the headmaster’s door. I think I hear a voice saying something, but I’m not sure so I knock again. Then a very loud voice shouts impatiently: ‘Come in!’

I push open the door and come in. I’ve seen him before – he came to our primary school to tell us all how much we would enjoy secondary school, but somehow he seems different this morning. He looks as if something upset him or that he has too much to do. He stares at me.

‘My name is Fern Hamilton, Sir,’ I say timidly. ‘I’m new.’

‘Well, why didn’t you…’ he starts to say and then he remembers. ‘Oh, yes, I remember. I know all about you. You’re the girl who’s been over to London.’ He stares at me for a moment and then says: ‘Well, you’ve been having exciting times, haven’t you? But now is the time for settling down to work, you know. You don’t want to let all that nonsense make you silly, do you? Child actresses come and go, you know. What you want now is to do well at school.’

‘Yes, Sir,’ I say obediently.

‘Did you want me for something?’ he asks. He looks at his pile of post on the desk.

‘No, Sir,’ I say. He looks back, frowns at me and then I say quickly. ‘I’m not sure where to go, or what to do, Sir.’

‘Oh, go and find your form tutor and she will tell you everything. Wait a minute…’ He taps at his computer. ‘What’s your name, again?’

‘Fern, Sir, Fern Hamilton.’

‘Yes, I see. Yes, you are in Form 1b. Your form tutor is Mrs Wall. Find Mrs Wall and she’ll tell you everything.’

‘Thank you, Sir,’ I say and then I find myself outside in an empty corridor. I wander along, looking at the names on the doors until I find one marked ‘Secretary’. I stand outside it for a long time. Obviously I am not expected to bother busy people. It’s my fault for arriving a week late. However, in the end, I give a timid tap and then a voice calls out: ‘Come in.’

The secretary is a man. That surprises me. He is quite young and very good-looking.

‘You lost?’ he asks with a grin.

‘Yes,’ I admit. I begin to feel a little better.

‘Well, don’t run home and stick your head under the pillow,’ he says jokingly. ‘Let’s sort you out.’

‘My name is Fern Hamilton,’ I say hesitantly. ‘I’m looking for Mrs Wall.’

‘Oh,’ he says. ‘So you’re Fern. You’re in Mrs Wall’s form, are you?’ Somehow the way he says it makes me feel worried. Then he gives a big grin again. His teeth are very large and very white and they slightly stick out. They give him a very cute, small-boy-look. ‘I know who you are,’ he says. ‘You’re the girl in the film. I’m really looking forward to seeing that. It’s coming to the cinema next week. I was trying to get a part in that myself, but …’ he sighs dramatically ‘…not good-looking enough – should have had my teeth straightened when I was young,’ he finishes.

I laugh. I begin to feel much better.

‘I’ll take you to Mrs Wall,’ he says getting to his feet. He stops, on his way out, with his hand on the handle of the door. ‘Don’t worry if she’s not too friendly,’ he whispers. ‘You know her niece, the blond girl… well apparently, the family were a bit disappointed …well… you know how these things go…’ He tails off and I nod. Everyone expected that Zara would be the one to get the part in the film. She is so much more good-looking than I am and she has so much more personality. No wonder her family is upset. I feel bad again. Just my luck to have Zara’s aunt as my form tutor!

‘Well, chin up,’ he says encouragingly as we go down the corridor together. ‘What was it like in London at the film premier? Pop in and tell me sometime you have a moment. My name is Declan, by the way. Here is Mrs Wall’s room.’ He knocks on a door and then pushes it open without waiting for a ‘come in’.

‘New pupil for your form, Mrs Wall,’ he says breezily. ‘This is Fern Hamilton. Good luck, Fern, see you around!’

Mrs Wall looks quite like Zara’s mother. She is tall and very, very thin, with dyed blond hair streaked with butterscotch-coloured strands. She stares at me for a few minutes and doesn’t speak until the noise of Declan’s footsteps stop echoing from the corridor.

‘So you’re Fern,’ she says. ‘Now Fern, I hope you are going to work hard and be a sensible girl. I know you have had a lot to turn your head, but now is the time for settling down to work, you know. You don’t want to let all that nonsense make you silly. Child actresses come and go, you know.’

I nod silently. Her words are almost identical to the headmaster’s. They must all have got together at the staff meeting and decided what they were going to say to me. That meant that all of the other teachers would be against me, as well. I was feeling more and more depressed by the minute. Was there any way that I could persuade Mum and Dad to change their minds and send me to boarding school with Jessica after all?

‘Here is your timetable,’ says Mrs Wall rummaging in the tray on her desk. ‘Here is a map of the school which we hand out to all first-years,’ she continues. ‘You can see that all the rooms are marked clearly on it.

I look at it. It doesn’t seem to make much sense. I can’t even find the secretary’s office on it. I nod silently again.

‘Assembly will have finished by now, and your first lesson is history and that will be with me,’ says Mrs Wall. ‘Wait outside the door and then you can follow me.’

I go out and stand miserably there. I can remember crying on my first day at primary school when I was four years old and then cheering up when Zara made friends with me. Last term I swore that I would never be friends with her again, when she was so nasty to me when I got the part in the film, but now I feel so bad that I would almost beg her to be friendly. I remember all the fun we used to have and all the giggling and the bad bits begin to go to the back of my mind.

Mrs Wall doesn’t introduce me to the class or anything like that. She just sweeps into the room, puts her bag beside the teacher’s desk and says: ‘Class rise.’

Everybody stands up and I stumble across the class and find the only empty desk. All of the desks are single so it doesn’t matter that no one is next to me. Lots of people are turning around and staring at me while they were saying ‘Good morning, Mrs Wall,’ but I pretend not to notice.

She’s a boring teacher, I decide after a while, she’s as boring as Mr Lynham in primary school, but she’s much better at keeping order. While she is going on about the stone age and warning everyone not to get mixed up between Neolithic and Mesolithic no one dares stir; everyone is too busy writing things down. While she is writing on the blackboard I sneak a quick look around the room. Zara is in the corner at the back of the room. I notice that all of her friends are around her and that they have moved their desks just a little so that they form one large friendly clump at the back of the room. Mrs Wall obviously hasn’t noticed them move their desks; or perhaps because it is Zara she says nothing. Anytime that Zara puts up her hand – and usually that is just for the easiest questions – she gives her a smile.

‘What was it like being in a film?’ asks a girl, when we are making our way to the next classroom.

‘Come on, Fern,’ says Zara grabbing my arm. ‘Tell us all about it. We’re dying to hear, aren’t we, girls?’ She drags me down the corridor and pushes me into a classroom at the end of it. ‘Stand up there and tell us all about it,’ she commands. I stand where she puts me right in front of the teacher’s desk and I can feel my face turning red. It looks like hundreds of eyes staring at me.

‘Stand on the desk,’ shouts one boy.

‘Speak up,’ shouts another.

‘Can’t hear you!’

‘Give us your autograph!’

Suddenly they are all shouting at me and I just stand there feeling like an animal in the zoo.

‘What is going on here?’ shouts the headmaster flinging open the door so widely that it crashes into the bookcase on the wall behind. ‘What are you doing out of your seat, Fern?’

Well, at least he knows my name, now, I think, as I stumble to a desk. He stands there glaring, mostly at me, until the geography teacher, Miss Clancy, comes rushing in five minutes, or what feels like five hours, later.

‘Sorry,’ she says to him quickly. ‘I couldn’t find the classroom.’ He glares at her, also, and then leaves abruptly. She must be new, if she couldn’t find the classroom. I feel quite sorry for her. The class, who had been so quiet and so good during Mrs Wall’s boring history lesson, are now talking openly and one boy even fires a paper aeroplane across the room while she is drawing a map of China on the blackboard. I long to be part of the fun, but I haven’t the courage. Anyway, I know better than to try. I can see what is going to happen. I am going to be one who provides the fun. It’s all right in this class because they are teasing the teacher, asking to go to the toilet every few minutes and making jokes about Chinese take-aways; after class they will turn to teasing me. This is the second double lesson of the morning so it will be lunchtime after this. I wonder how I will survive it. Lunchtime is the best time for the popular people and it’s the worst for the unpopular.

Eventually the electronic buzzer goes for lunchtime. The class all start putting away their books. When the buzzer stops a voice comes over the intercom.

‘Fern Hamilton, First Form b, to the secretary’s office, please,’ says the voice firmly. It’s Declan’s voice

Miss Clancy looks around the class. I jump to my feet and she nods. I make for the door as quickly as I can. The others surge behind me and Mrs Clancy screams: ‘No one else is to move. Five minutes’ detention for bad behaviour for everyone.’

That won’t make her popular, I think as go down the corridor as quickly as I can, praying that I will manage to find the secretary’s office. They’ll all resent her now – not all of them were misbehaving – and they will resent me because I escaped the punishment.

My luck holds. I find the secretary’s office and knock on the door.

‘Come in,’ says Declan. ‘Hi, Fern! Here are your dinner tickets. Try not to lose them, but if you do, come straight to me and I’ll cancel them and give you some new ones. You’ll get five tickets every Monday. It’s a rubbishy dinner – but your mother has paid for it so you might as well have it. I’ll walk down with you. I have one too, it saves me cooking in the evening.’

‘It must have been exciting at the film premier with all of those famous people around,’ he says as we walk towards the canteen. ‘Were you worried that you might do the wrong thing on the big night with all the cameras trained on you; I know I would be.’

‘We had a rehearsal the day before for all the not-so-important people and then another one during the day with the stars in it as well,’ I explain. ‘It probably looked natural, but it was like a play, really. Everyone knew their parts and where they were going to sit and everything.’

‘Really,’ he sounds astonished. ‘I would never have guessed that. And to think that if I had got the part of William, the gardener, I would have been over there in London with you instead of a being a boring secretary here in Castletown.’

‘What made you be a secretary?’ I ask. I don’t like to say that he had no hope of getting the part of the gardener since that was played by such a big star.

‘Well my girlfriend is going to be a teacher, so I thought I would be a teacher too,’ he explains. ‘Then when we are married we can go on long holidays together every summer. I didn’t get a place at training college for this year, but I have an offer for next year so I thought I would try to work in a school for a year and then I would get some money to see me through and pay off some of my debts and I would get experience of dealing with all these terrible children. I thought about being a Special Needs Assistant, but I have a degree in Business Studies, so secretary seemed a better idea – I’d prefer to be a film star, though. Do you think they will make a sequel to ‘The Rose’ over here in Castletown?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say and he leaves me with a cheery wave and goes off to the Staff table. I queue up for the dinner with an eye on the door. The other first year class has just come in and I go and sit beside a girl on her own. It was a bad choice. I speak to her but she ignores me just staring across the canteen. I feel my face get red and I take a big bite of my pizza, choking it down so that I can get out as quickly as possible. Surely there will be somewhere to hide during lunchtime.