It was too terrible to contemplate. Anything that fell from that dizzy height would be smashed to pieces on the jagged rocks below. Tilly felt ill and the strength left her legs. Her sobs choked her as she plucked up enough courage to peer over the edge, preparing herself for this distant sight of a small, furry body floating on the water.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: I didn’t notice this until now, but the scene in which Miss Boston meets the Mother Superior in her office is the first mention of a Bakelite radio we get in Robin Jarvis canon. Like coiling ammonites, those slightly sinister-looking relics of the early 20th Century have become one of his trademark narrative props. I can’t recall if a Bakelite appears in the Wyrd Museum Trilogy, but I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy spotting them here and there as we venture further into this project.
This chapter could more-or-less be summed up as ‘Miss Boston investigates’, but it seems the Mrs Cooper Mystery has more layers than she could have imagined. The scenes at the convent have the same unearthly feel as when Jennet interrupted Sister Bridget on the cliff, and the fact that nothing is ever explained fully only makes it more unsettling. The ‘novice’ has been living in the convent since 1738, but what sort of a being is she, who glows faintly green and lives an unnaturally prolonged span of years? Moreover, what could Mrs Cooper, suspected murderess and doer of sundry foul deeds, want with her?
As illustrated in the Deptford Mice Trilogy, no small detail or passing reference is ever just a small detail or passing reference. Here Eurydice the cat illustrates this perfectly when she presents her owner with the Hand of Glory, thus revealing Mrs Cooper’s perfidy to another member of the Ladies’ Circle. Poor Tilly Droon, whose only crime was to be a slightly-wiffy cat lady!
Matt’s Thoughts: ‘Miss Boston investigates’ is a perfect title for the goings-on here. I love the image of her harassing the town doctor, harassing the local police, accusing people of murder. It’s just like Heartbeat but with, you know, ghosts, witches and small invisible creatures that look for moonkelp.
What also fascinates me is the conversation between Aunt Alice and the Mother Superior. First off, short of watching The Sound of Music, when was the last time a Mother Superior showed up in a story, anyway? In many ways, this first Whitby book gives you the sense that, really, it could be set in the 1930s and you wouldn’t notice much difference to it. (Unlike The Witching Legacy series which is very much conscious of its time and place and features all manner of modern-day references. Dancing Jax even more so.) So it has a certain Agatha Christie feel to it that I like.
But more than that, I’m fascinated by how the two women view each other. Witchcraft would, of course, be openly condemned by the Catholic Church. So Stereotypical Version 1 of this scene would have had Miss Boston running into a hostile and unhelpful Mother Superior. Stereotypical Version 2 would have been slightly softer and feature an oblivious Mother Superior and a sly Miss Boston pretending to be innocent.
However, the way it’s written is far more fascinating, because you can’t help but get the feeling that both women know exactly what each other is like and what they get up to. But both of them are also aware, though probably in different ways, that the town needs help and that Sister Bridget is important to everything. I don’t think the Mother Superior ever shows up again, but she just fleshes out the interesting group of side-characters that feature in this book.
Finally, what a chapter finale! There’s not much I can add, because it’s so well written. But the final image is utterly freaky. It’s like something out of a disturbing 70s film. I could just imagine it freaking people out at a movie theatre. Brilliant stuff.
But utterly disturbing as well. Who’s going to be left for the second Whitby book at the rate Robin is churning through them in Book 1?