High Marks for Murder

High Marks for Murder by Rebecca Kent. The setting of a girl’s finishing school in rural England in the early 20th-century is not a bad location for this initial effort in a new series. There’s the potential for conflict between the headmistress and arrogant male members of the school board, between members of the all-female faculty whose opinions vary about the changing role of women in society, between students at a volatile age, and between the school staff members as would happen in any closely confined group. Although Kent does a good job of exploiting these conflicts, the core mystery is pathetically poor.

Meredith Llewellyn is the headmistress of Bellehaven Finishing School and becomes the lead investigator into the murder of Kathleen Duncan, one of her faculty members and close friend. The town constable dismisses Kathleen’s death on the school’s grounds as an accident, but Meredith and the local doctor suspect otherwise. Kathleen’s harsh criticism of students and staff provide several suspects for the case. Meredith is occasionally aided by two other faculty members, but her primary assistant is Kathleen’s ghost, who frequently appears, but only to Meredith, and vaguely points to potential clues. Eventually, Meredith successfully interprets one of these gestures and that one clue breaks open the case, but without evidence, she must convince the murderer to confess.

Meredith herself is not a bad character, but the use of a supernatural assistant is ridiculous, the solution to the crime lacked any complexity and the device of getting the killer to confess is one of my pet peeves. Hopefully, future episodes at Bellhaven will not include these faults. Like the young women attending classes at the finishing school, there is some potential here, but it needs considerable polishing.

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