Written by Antonia Fraser
Viking Press, 1977; 176 pages
At the beginning of Antonia Fraser's Quiet as a Nun, Sister Miriam, a nun in the Convent of the Blessed Eleanor, is found dead (an apparent suicide) in the Tower of Ivory, an ancient structure adjoining the convent grounds. Sister Miriam was an old school chum of television reporter Jemima Shore -- many years ago, they both attended the convent's private school for girls. In those days, Sister Miriam was Rosabelle Powerstock, heiress to "the Powers fortune," one of the largest fortunes in Britain.
Jemima is contacted by the Reverend Mother Ancilla, head of the convent and school, and invited back to look into Miriam's death and a number of other strange occurrences. During her investigation, Jemima discovers that Miriam, whose family owned the convent's lands, might have written a second will leaving everything to another charity. If that will exists and is found, it could force both the convent and the school to shut down.
Understandably, not everyone welcomes Jemima's poking around in convent affairs. And things turn really spooky when the girls at the convent school tell Jemima that the Black Nun was seen in the convent just before Miriam's death. Supposedly, the ghostly (and faceless) spectre is only seen when a death is about to take place in convent grounds. And now it's been sighted again. Can Jemima discover the truth about Sister Miriam's death before someone else (possibly Jemima herself) is killed?
Well, obviously Jemima can -- this was the first novel in a series that went on to include seven more books. But it's a good, mysterious read, even though we know she's going to figure everything out in the end. I've read several of the later Jemima Shore mysteries, and decided it was time to see how they all started. I always enjoy them, even though they're really not the most thrilling tales -- basically cozies, they proceed at a nice sedate pace. But Fraser's writing is always elegant. And Jemima is an interesting character -- intelligent, sophisticated, and serious about her work as a journalist. And unmarried and childless -- very unlike her creator, who was married and the mother of six!
Definitely had fun with this one. And I'll be reading more Jemima Shore in the future.