Mrs. Beatrice Lestrange Bradley receives a visit from her barrister son, Ferdinand Lestrange, who brings with him a plea for help. The coastal convent and girls’ school of Saint Peter’s Finger reports that student Ursula Doyle has died under inexplicable circumstances. The poor girl was found in the filled tub of a guesthouse bathroom but the coroner discovers that she had died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Fearing public outcry at the suspicious death, the nuns ask the Home Office psychoanalyst to look into matters. Mrs. Bradley dutifully attends.
Arriving at the convent, the detective quickly learns that the flow of information runs differently here. Though the nuns don’t withhold facts, neither do they extend them. Part of the difficulty lay in the circumstances: although none can believe little Ursula capable of committing the cardinal sin of suicide, the possibility of murder occurring at St. Peter’s is particularly disagreeable. As facts continue to find against a ruling of accidental drowning, Mrs. Bradley is forced to start looking for a murderer.
A couple of outsiders fit nicely: the dead girl’s aunt, Mrs. Maslin, moved one step closer to seeing Ursula’s large inheritance bestowed to her own stepdaughter; Miss Bonnet, a visiting physical training mistress, certainly had the strength–and possibly a motive–for murder; and cousin Ulrica, an enigmatic girl with signs of religious mania, was the last person to see Ursula alive. Even simple-minded Sister Bridget, with affinities for a pet mouse and for starting fires, cannot be immediately ruled out. As a solution begins to form, Mrs. Bradley grows increasingly uneasy with the situation and warns the Mother Superior to take steps to avoid another crime. In so doing, the old sleuth will also have to act fast to preserve her own life.
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