Monday, May 30, 2011
The Religious Body: Review
Just recently I read Past Tense, the most current in Catherine Aird's Inspector Sloan series. When I was hunting around for more books to read for the Birth Year Challenge: Time Machine Version, I was interested to see that the very first Sloan book, The Religious Body, was published in my target year: 1966. It's been a long time since I read Sloan's initial outing and it was very nice to go back and remind myself where it all began.
Our first look at Inspector C. D. Sloan is of a man perplexed. He "had never been inside a Convent before. He had, he reckoned been inside most places of female confinement in his working life--hospitals, prisons, orphanages, offices, and even--once--a girls' boarding school." But never a convent--and he's not quite sure of the rules nor how the rules will shape or interfere with his investigation. You would think that in a closed society where everything runs according to form and schedule that anything out of the ordinary would immedately be noticed--not so in the case of the sudden death of Sister Anne. Her fellow nuns have been trained to "the custody of the eyes"--not to notice what does not concern them, which apparently is most anything that might help Sloan in his investigation.
Sister Anne has been hit over the head with the proverbial blunt instrument and then flung down the convent's cellar steps in the hopes that the death will be put down to accident. Unfortunately for the murderer, the sharp-eyed doctor who attends the nuns notices some irregularities in the "accident" scene and insists that the police be notified. Enter Inspector Sloan and his assistant Detective-Constable Crosby who must try to find out why anyone would want to kill a cloistered nun. While delving into her past, Sloan discovers that Sister Anne came from a moneyed family...and depending on the timing of various deaths stood to inherit a fair sum. She had spoken of her expectations and her desire to see the convent benefit. Did one of her sisters speed her death thinking the inheritance more definite for St. Anselm? Could a nun under vows do such a thing? Or, has one of her relatives, hastened her death to prevent the money from leaving the family? Sloan finds himself looking into the past for the answers he seeks before he can bring the case to a successful conclusion.
Catherine Aird writes a very nice modern version of the classic British mystery. They are cozy and satifying with just enough of the understated British wit. I like the little mental asides that accompanying most of Sloan's interactions--very wry and not quite sarcastic. And this is an excellent debut novel. The characters are well-grounded and her descriptions give you a very definite sense of place. I originally gave this mystery four stars...I stand by that rating now.