A Shocking Assassination

Written by Cora Harrison
Review by Sarah Johnson

This second entry in Harrison’s Reverend Mother Mysteries should please readers who demand storylines where the historical setting plays a vital role. In 1923 in the ancient city of Cork, the passionate struggle for Ireland’s future leaves none of its residents untouched. Violent deaths are commonplace, even appallingly casual at times. The political instability increases the already sharp divide between Cork’s rich and poor. Even in these volatile times, the murder of city engineer James Doyle stands out for its audacity: he’s assassinated in the middle of the crowded English Market, during a brief moment of darkness when the gas lamps go out.

Reverend Mother Aquinas is on site at the time, buying buttered eggs as a nourishing gift for her convent’s gardener, who doesn’t have long to live. Various merchants are there, too, as are many shoppers and city notables. Young Sam O’Mahony becomes the obvious suspect when he’s found holding a pistol near the body when the lights come back on, but he insists he isn’t guilty. Despite his pacifist tendencies, he does have a possible motive – revenge after being fired from the local newspaper – but so do many others. Mr. Doyle was rumored to be tangled in a web of corruption involving misuse of government funds.

Compassionate yet principled, the Reverend Mother proves to be a methodical sleuth once again, knowing that Mrs. O’Mahony, Sam’s mother, is relying on her to exonerate him. Scenes from the viewpoint of 17-year-old Eileen, the Reverend Mother’s former star pupil, drop readers into the thick of the Republican army’s fight against the Irish Free State. A heart-pounding chase scene adds to the already edgy atmosphere while bringing out aspects of the characters’ personalities.  Another winner in an excellent series.