Friday, April 10, 2020
Murder at the Queen's Old Castle by Cora Harrison
Seven hundred years earlier, the Queen's Old Castle was a castle at the entrance to the city of Cork. Now it's just a large department store that sells cheap goods and linens. But, Reverend Mother Aquinas once ran in the same circles as its owner, Joseph Fitzwilliam, so he was happy to let her pick through items that had been caught up in the recent flooding of the store. Despite the smell of gas in the store, she's shopping for goods for the school convent, accompanied by one of the store apprentices, fourteen-year-old Brian Maloney. She and the doctor who tends to police cases are both witnesses when Fitzwilliam staggers from his office, and falls over the railing to his death. They're also witnesses when Mrs. Fitzwilliam accuses Brian of killing her husband, saying it was supposed to be her.
Eileen McSweeney, one of Reverend Mother's former students, is also on the scene, along with what appears to be half the population of Cork. Eileen is quick to turn from printer's clerk and delivery girl to reporter, writing down everything she observes, and even doing a little investigating before the police turn up. Dr. Scher knew it was murder and even found a canister of gas. He sent for another one of Reverend Mother's former students, Inspector Patrick Cashman.
Suspicion falls on members of the victim's family. The miserly store owner's entire family worked at the store, long after his money could have provided them with a comfortable living. Only his oldest son, Major James Fitzwilliam, didn't work there. He entered the store just in time to see his father plunge to his death. While the family appears to be suspects, time after time Mrs. Fitzwilliam accuses Brian. As an apprentice, he can only turn to Eileen and Reverend Mother for help.
Murder at the Queen's Old Castle is an unusual mystery in this series, with a complicated ending. Reverend Mother is suffering from a cough and shortness of breath, so everyone comes to her to talk. Once again, Patrick Cashman, Eileen McSweeney, Dr. Scher and Reverend Mother's wealthy cousin, Lucy, bring her their information and consult her. It's Lucy who says, "You usually do know things. You sit here like a spider weaving your web and people bring you little flies of information."
This entry in the series brings back familiar characters. Patrick and Eileen are still young, and they continue to mature. It's a joy to welcome them back. However, the books in the series present an unflinching look at the history of divisions between the poor, the working class and the wealthy in Cork, and the city's history of violence and poor living conditions. The situation of apprentices, deemed fortunate because their parents could buy a job for them, is portrayed with its ugly living conditions.
Cora Harrison's Murder in the Queen's Old Castle, with its unusual, but appropriate, ending is a satisfying mystery in a series that portrays the social conditions in a time between wars. Harrison excels at the historical details of life in the 1920s in Cork, Ireland.
Cora Harrison's website is www.coraharrison.com
Murder in the Queen's Old Castle by Cora Harrison. Severn House, 2018. ISBN 9780727888303 (hardcover), 236p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.