Death Wore a Diadem by Iona McGregor

On 17th November 1860 The Scotsman reported:

“Since hapless Mary Queen of Scots landed at Leith three hundred years ago, no Royal lady of France has visited the Scottish capital. The Empress Eugenie seeks the enjoyment of strictest privacy as aiding attainment of the main object of her visit – the renewal of her impaired health. The visit recalls ancient days of firm alliance between France and Scotland; and between the two peoples a hereditary liking yet continues, which might well, were occasion suitable, find especially warm expression towards the Empress Eugenie, seeing that she herself is of Scotch descent, and so adds to those of royalty the yet more potent and kindlier claims of kindred.”

James McLevy, a retired police detective, was walking his dog when he saw the royal train arrive on a dark, cold, winter evening. He feared trouble, and he was right.

Because at the Scottish institute for the Education of the Daughters of Gentlefolk the Lady Superintendent, Margaret Napier, was working out how she could use the visit to her advantage.

She managed to secure a promise of a visit from the Empress, to see her girls perform a tableau. And the loan of a copy of the Empress’s Grecian diadem to be used in the tableau. It was a paste copy, but it was completely indistinguishable from the real thing ….

It might have been a triumph, but the diadem disappeared.

And then Peggy, the school’s laundry maid, was found. Murdered. With the diadem in her bag.

Mrs Napier was swift to blame Peggy, and desperate to avoid any scandal around her school. But she had reckoned without Christabel.

Christabel was in her last year of school and she was ready to fly. She was headstrong and wilful; she was bright and charming. And, as a heroine, she was simply irresistible.

Christabel wanted to know the truth. And so did Eleanor, a junior teacher who so wanted to become a doctor. She was just a few years older than Christabel, and they loved each other dearly. They made a charming couple.

Neither believed that Peggy was a thief. And both believed that she should have justice.

They set out to identify the thief and the killer …

Iona McGregor has constructed a wonderfully entertaining mystery. There’s a wonderful cast, of schoolgirls, teachers, maids, parents, detectives. The period and the city come to life. And fun was poked at the snobbishness of genteel society.

There were moments when the author’s social and sexual politics threatened to overwhelm the plot. I nearly put the book down, but in the end curiosity about the characters and the mystery made me carry on.

My curiosity about the mystery was satisfied, but not my curiosity about the characters. They were set up so beautifully, but I was left at the end with not even a hint of what might happen next for Eleanor and Christabel.

Maybe there were plans for to a sequel, or even a series, But this book was published in 1989, and so  I have to assume that, if there were, they didn’t come to fruition.

That leaves me with a nice historical mystery, but a novel that feels a little incomplete.

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