(creator: Margaret Ann Hubbard)
|Sister (Mary) Simon is young and pretty, but as the hard-working Sister in charge of hospital pediatrics, has a "face drawn with fatigue". She had a hard work schedule. "Since she had become a supervisor she was always tired. If only she could have a short vacation! But in the convent there were few vacations. If you had your shoes on you carried your full load .... She had passed her registry with a nearly perfect mark and she loved children" so "it was inevitable that she be made supervisor of pediatrics". But it was "no use pretending she didn't feel the burden of her youth and inexperience".
She was '"peckishly strict, often a peevish disciplinarian because she was very little older than the students" she supervised. "A rule was a rule and every single one would be kept." But then, when an old lady dies, possibly because of her over rigid observance of the rules, she feels real guilt. She had been overworked and had felt totally exhausted at the end of a sixteen-hour day, but even so ....
Her father had been a policeman and "had been killed by a murderer he and another policeman were trying to apprehend, and she had promised herself then and there that she would become a detective and avenge all murders. At thirteen there had been nothing impossible about that. Her father had taight her to shoot 'from the hip', that is, without using sights. She could hit a moving target at fifty feet with a pistol - a skill you seldom needed in a convent." She is a altogether a resourceful young woman so makes a shrewd detective. Was she the very first of the detective nuns? She is certainly one of the most realistic.
"Margaret Ann Hubbard" Priley (1909 - 1992) graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1932 (PhD in Sciences), then turned to a writing career. She published some historical novels and wrote radio plays adapted from fairy tales, as well as Catholic children's books and four crime stories that were published between 1950 and 1966. The one in which a nun (Sister Simon) played a major detecting role is described below. The other crime stories also included nuns, but in lesser roles. (I would welcome more information about Margaret Hubbard's life - and also a photograph of her.)
Set in a mid-Western resort town at the height of the tourist season, it is a fast-moving story, with plenty of action, that starts with the murder of Dannie Grear, a terrified old lady, who turns out to have once been a nun herself. Then a student nurse disappears, and other people are attacked. Could it be that the man who had murdered Dannie's sister and brother-in-law twenty years before is still alive? And, if so, why will he stop at nothing to hide his identity? And what does old Mr Waddy, the undertaker, know that may endanger his life too?
Sister Simon grabs time out of her hectic life to puzzle out what is going on, but the police won't listen to her, and it is left to her and Lizette, one of her student nurses, to track down the real criminal and eventually confront him themselves. It makes a dramatic climax, with Sister Simon having to grab a gun and, just to show she could, fire at an empty bottle floating towards the dock. "The bottle shattered and disappeared" and the crooks gave in.
Lizette tells Sister Simon how unfair life seems to be. ""The only answer I can give you, Lizette, is that we aren't in a position to judge the fairness of life. There's an old story. you must have heard it, about a man who stood watching a nun scrubbing a floor, and he said, 'Sister, I wouldn't lead your kind of life for a million dollars.' And she smiled and said, 'Neither would I.' The purpose is what counts, you see." Life to her was "a medley of annoyances but with certainty underneath". She may not be a profound theologian, but she is young and was "never in the least confused as to her religious vocation".
She is an altogether realistic and interesting character, and it would have been good to see her play an even bigger part in the story. She seems more real than some of the detective nuns who were to follow her, even if the story itself seems a bit dated. Perhaps a bit more "gore and sex" might have helped!
|The title may sound a little dated, but the cover is still striking.|