This quaint novel tells a story of a British boarding school in the end of the 19th century. But saying that and only that would be a gross simplification. The story is also a murder mystery and a farce, a historical and a study in character interactions.
One day, seven teenage girls, the students of St. Etheldred’s School for Young Ladies, witness their schoolmistress and her brother keel dead during their weekly Sunday dinner. Why did they die simultaneously? Were they murdered? Why, how, and by whom? And most importantly: what is going to happen to the girls? For various reasons, none of them wants to go back home. To avoid such a fate, they concoct a convoluted scheme to conceal the unfortunate deaths and pretend that their schoolmistress is still alive. And they plan to investigate her suspicious demise.
Only inexperienced children, together with Julie Berry, their author, could ever come up with such an outrageous plan, and of course, everything goes awry. Unexpected visitors arrive on their doorstep, one after another, asking awkward questions and demanding to see their mistress. Money problems unfold. Robberies happen. Lies pile up. Obviously, covering up a double murder is not for wimps.
Still the girls persevere and almost pull it off. Despite their internal squabbles and petty rivalry—and what company of seven teenage girls could exist without those—they manage to work together fairly well. They wash clothes and bury corpses, solve murders and confront problems, always supporting each other along the way.
The plot gallops, with new complications arising hourly, according to the Murphy’s Law. Such a tale would be ridiculous without humor. Fortunately, there is plenty of it. Not hilarity but mild amusement accompanies almost every page.
The characterization is superb; every girl is different. Each has a distinctive personality and appearance, her own doubts and faults. The marvelous cover art and inside illustration by Iacopo Bruno contribute to the feeling that the girls are alive, a bunch from a local high school production rather than a genuine historical novel.
A delightful read, well thought of and well executed. Definitely recommended.