The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is an engaging boarding school murder mystery in which a gaggle of very silly Victorian girls find themselves in an unfortunate situation. It’s somewhat incorrectly presented as a biting children’s satire when in reality what we have is a straightforward tale of luck and pluck. There’s little humor, dark or otherwise, other than droll dialogue. But that’s not a bad thing – this is a fun book but one that will likely work better with a more mature reader who can appreciate its low key ambiance and sublime observations on human nature.
Story: A boardinghouse in England is home to several girls and their irascible headmistress. When both the headmistress and her brother die suddenly at the dinner table, the girls are at a loss. If the bodies are brought to the authorities, they will lose their friendships and be shipped back to their parents/guardians. But hiding two bodies, fending off suitors, as well as discovering just who did the deed, will take all their innate resources.
As suitable for a Victorian milieu, we’re not talking overly smart girls here – they are rather silly, inane, and pretty much doing the best they can with what Victorian life has allowed them. Each has a unique character which is emphasized in a very Victorian way by an adjective in front of their name (e.g. Pocky Louise). Most of those nicknames are negative in some way or other and that does tell a lot about lief at the turn of the century for girls in England.
The story flows smoothly and it is amusing to watch the girls get out of predicament after predicament as they try to hide the bodies. Nothing they do is overly clever; rather, they each have a bit of talent (acting, sleuthing) and that talent is just enough to get them by. As such, this isn’t a funny book or one that is ‘full of outrageous twists.’ The plot is fairly straightforward and it is obvious from the beginning that the girls will not be able to conceal the murders for too long. Some amusement arrives from their rather simple-headed responses or personalities but this is a very droll British low key humor type of story. I was greatly reminded of the movie Arsenic and Old Lace while reading.
I definitely enjoyed The Scandalous Sisterhood. Those looking for tough, smart, intelligent women probably won’t enjoy the silly girls. But it is a good story for the era it is placed and definitely well written. The murder mystery has enough legs to carry through to the end without disappointment at the reveal.
Reviewed from an ARC.