Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Gruesome Discovery by Cora Harrison

Here's a series I've read from the very beginning, Cora Harrison's Reverend Mother series set in Cork, Ireland in the 1920s. I find the history of Ireland fascinating, and everything I've learned about history in recent years comes from fiction. A Gruesome Discovery has a surprise villain that makes perfect sense when I look back on it, a twist I never saw coming.

Reverend Mother Aquinas has worked the streets of Cork's slums for fifty years, and she never smelled anything like the stench coming from a trunk that was delivered to her. It came from Henry Mulcahy's auction as he was moving to a more expensive residence, and Lucy, Reverend Mother's cousin, bought it for her sight unseen because it said "School books" on it. That was Henry Mulcahy's body stuffed in the trunk, though, when Reverend Mother opened it. And, Mulcahy's oldest son, Fred,  was standing behind her when she opened it, although she could tell he was shocked to see the body of the man he hated.

Several people may have hated Mulcahy, and they're lining up to confess to his murder. Reverend Mother doesn't believe any of them, but she's unable to prevent first one death, and then another one. She does gather her usual cohorts; two former students, one with the Civil Guard and one with the Republican forces, along with Dr. Scher, the police doctor, and Reverend Mother's cousin, Lucy. And, she handles her own danger with her usual calm presence of mind.

Why do I love these mysteries? Harrison is a careful writer with shrewd endings. But, the combination of Irish history and culture is fascinating. Here's an example. "Life had not been easy, never was easy for these children from the slums. Many slipped into despair, dissolution, prostitution and crime; some emigrated and some ended up drowned in the River Lee; very few struggled through to success in their native city. And those who did, in her experience, mostly bore the scar of insecurity and took life with an intense seriousness."

Make no mistake. Reverend Mother is not a holier-than-thou figure. These mysteries are not about religion, although she is in a religious order. In fact, I respect her for her honesty to herself. When told a woman has died, and she should pray, Reverend Mother thinks, "I'm not sure that I'm too good at praying these days, I'm not even sure that it works." She would never say the words aloud. She knows she would shock everyone "if she allowed her experience of death, starvation, abuse of small children, suicides, murder - all everyday occurrences in this city of Cork - to make her wonder about even His very existence."

There's a new book out in the Reverend Mother series. You'll have to put up with me when I review that one as well. It might be a little while, but Cork and Reverend Mother will be waiting.

Cora Harrison's website is www.coraharrison.com

A Gruesome Discovery by Cora Harrison. Severn House, 2017. ISBN 9780727887580 (hardcover), 249p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy of the book.

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