Murder in an Orchard Cemetery (A Reverend Mother Mystery, 8)

Written by Cora Harrison
Review by Fiona Alison

Cora Harrison returns to post-WWI Cork with her endearing protagonist in Murder in an Orchard Cemetery. Reverend Mother Aquinas is on an annual retreat. This year the bishop has invited members of the laity, five participants in the race for alderman, to attend the retreat, which makes it rather less than the tranquil week of contemplation the Reverend Mother is used to. When a bomb explodes in the orchard cemetery, blowing the stockbroker to smithereens, suspicion falls on the solicitor with connections to Sinn Féin. Or perhaps it’s the builder, the stocking factory owner, or the shoe seller. There’s reason to suspect them all. And what part does the convent novice play in all of this?

Harrison uses her unique knowledge of Cork’s history to lend a real feel for the era. She adds delightful touches: the police scotch the factory owner’s alibi because he’d apparently been sitting on a wall overgrown with bougainvillea! The Garda Barracks smells of Jeyes Fluid. The self-doubting detective, Patrick, and Eileen, the brilliant, budding journalist, are both prior students of the Reverend Mother, raised in abject poverty, and her pride in their achievements is evident. Harrison uses these three characters to relate her tale, which is so full of red herrings, (politics? religion? greed?) that I gave up trying to figure out whodunnit and just let the investigation flow to its clever conclusion. The Reverend Mother does not play a big role in the proceedings, but she is the glue which holds it all together, and is the one who, Poirot-like, lays out the intricacies of the plot at the end with razor-sharp accuracy. Harrison is a prolific and atmospheric writer with several series under her belt. This is my favourite, along with her Burren Mysteries, which I also recommend.