Jessica Ellicott: Murder at a London Finishing School

Beryl & Edwina #7

Jessica Ellicott’s seventh book in her Beryl and Edwina post WWI series, Murder at a London Finishing School, takes the titular heroines on a tour of their past. Both attended Miss Dupont’s Finishing school – it’s where they met – but neither had the best time of their lives there. Daring Beryl was far from suited to the stuffy conventions of the place, and shy Edwina was often homesick. The two were pretty unlikely to ever attend a reunion, pay a nostalgic visit, or, as neither have children, send a daughter of their own to the school.

Now both live at Edwina’s stately home, the Beeches, and work as private investigators. As much as Beryl wanted to go on her golf retreat, and Edwina wanted to work on her Western novel, both reluctantly answer the call when Miss Dupont writes to them. The school has been afflicted with “hauntings” – strange noises and lights in the night, things going missing and being returned or just vanishing all together – and the institution is in danger of closing. Both women know that proud Miss Dupont wouldn’t reach out if her need wasn’t dire.

They head out at once for London, and settle into a small guest room, surrounded at once by people they haven’t talked to in years. Alongside timid, formally bullied Mary White, who they remember with fondness, and heart throb Desmond, now an engineer, there’s also former bully, Veronica, and dragon of a teacher, Miss Glover. The investigators compete with their remembrances of who these schoolmates used to be, rather than who they’ve become, and find those perceptions clouding their assumptions more than once.

Beryl and Edwina’s latest jaunt reads like they are in their very last weeks as seniors at high school and are racing to get out. Neither really want to be there, and they long to solve the mystery as soon as possible. The two opposites play well off each other, and each have their own strengths that help with the mystery. When Veronica is found dead, things only reach more of a desperate rush to get everything settled so they can go home.

This is a leisurely paced book, with no scares and no vulgarity of any kind. It’s as gentle as the English countryside itself, and it makes the reader feel as though they are wandering the hills and meadows alongside the women. The reader will come for the mystery, and stay for the friendship between Beryl and Edwina. They’re an odd couple of friends who fit together like stitches on a finishing school sample.  –Margaret Agnew