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3.9 out of 5 stars51
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 7 May 2008
I really enjoyed this story. It is not as dark as the cover may suggest. I think anyone who enjoys cosy mysteries would like it. It is unusual being set in a convent but it is very well written and Veronica Black has good insight and imagination. She manages to defend the religious way of life without idealising it, which I think is quite an achievement. It doesn't look or sound exciting, but it is very far from boring. I was hooked from the first chapter. This is the first in a series and I am amazed it isn't well known, because it deserves to be.
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This is an entertaining and well written cozy mystery, set in a convent. Sister Joan took her vocation relatively late and is an obedient, but questioning, member of the community. When the Reverend Mother tells her there is a vacancy in the Order of the Daughters of Compassion House in Cornwall, she asks her to go there and admits that she is uneasy about a letter she had from Mother Frances, her previous Novice Mistress. Mother Frances was very elderly and has since died, but her letter suggested that all is not well.

Sister Joan travels to Cornwall with a new novice, Veronica. The Reverend Mother at the Cornwall House is the daughter of a brilliant archeologist and a great champion of his work. Almost immediately, Sister Joan feels something is wrong and when another nun admits her disquiet about a feeling of "evil", she is unable to stop herself investigating. Sister Joan is a good heroine, the characters are well written and the way of life in the convent is sympathetically portrayed. Overall, an excellent first book in a series I look forward to reading more of.
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on 23 July 2009
This is a gentle and interesting mystery, but mostly it's a story about the conditions and interactions of the residents of a nunnery. The book is a relatively quick, and enjoyable, read. The writing is easy going, the story retains your interest, and the cast of characters is relatively small and thus easy to keep up with. The "unpleasantness" is kept to a minimum in keeping with the story and there is no gratuitous gore or violence. A pleasant and entertaining cozy mystery, providing an informative introduction to nunnery life.
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VINE VOICEon 1 February 2013
1988. Sister Joan is a lively and intelligent member of a small and obscure order of nuns. Sent by her prioress to the Cornish branch of their order after a letter from an old friend causes disquiet, Joan soon finds that all is not well on Bodmin. A nun has committed suicide and a novice has disappeared. The latter has supposedly gone home to her family but they think she is still at the convent and it looks horribly as if she never left. Is it significant that the Prioress wears scent and nail varnish or is Joan just being petty about a small breach of rules? Joan is even more disconcerted to find the senior nuns in the thrall of a heresy which turns out to be even stranger than she first thinks.

This is an unusual novel, very easy to read, which kept me turning the pages up to a disappointingly anti-climactic ending. There are some bugbears: for example, Joan thinks that the autopsy ordered on the suicide means that the police are suspicious when such a procedure would actually be completely routine. Crime novelists need to know this sort of thing.

It's hard to see how this can be the first of a series: how much serious crime can there be in a small convent?
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Sister Joan - of the Order of the Daughters of Compassion - is sent to the Order's convent in Cornwall as a result of a cryptic letter received by the Prioress of her own Convent which seems to indicate there is something wrong. Mother Frances - the author of the cryptic letter - is dead. But when Sister Joan arrives at Cornwall House she soon finds there are other strange deaths which may or may not match their `official' descriptions.

Joan is an interesting character with her own rebellious streak which makes her an ideal person to investigate the strange goings on at the convent. For a start why does the Prioress wear nail varnish and perfume? I found this short book interesting reading and found myself turning the pages quicker and quicker to find out what was really going on in the convent. I liked Sister Joan herself and found the author really brought the other nuns to life and made them individuals.

Anyone looking for a crime novel with a difference may want to try this series. Sister Joan does for the modern nun investigating crime what Sister Fidelma has long been doing for seventh century Ireland.
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on 22 February 2013
When Sister Joan is transferred to a convent in Cornwall she goes with instructions from her current Mother Superior to solve the puzzle in the last letter of a dying nun. She finds that her new Mother Superior acts very strangely for a nun - wearing nail varnish and perfume - and she also teaches what Sister Joan believes to be rather feminist dogma, seemingly at odds with other religious teachings. She also discovers that the novices in the novitiate are not being subjected to rules which are normally enforced, that a novice recently disappeared and another newly professed nun died in strange circumstances. So, what is a nun to do? Report her suspicions to the local priest? Tell the bishop? No! She investigates herself.

The genre is probably best described as a "cosy mystery" and kept my interest throughout, although it wasn't too taxing a read! It'll be interesting to see how she develops her characters and what happens to some of the stranger ones.
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on 26 July 2013
If I am honest I would say it is far from one of the best books I have read. Having said that I read it lying in the sun and enjoyed it, as such I felt that it would be churlish to award it less than 3 stars. It is a basic whodunnit, set in a convent with one of the nuns acting as a private investigator. Following a coded letter sent by a dying nun at one of the order's other houses Sister Joan is sent out to investigate. The product description provides a reasonable synopsis although in fact I found the story and the setting are completely implausible. Veronica Black's style is hardly literature but the book is written well enough not to make you cringe at every other sentence. In essence for me the book fulfilled most of the criteria for a harmless enjoyable holiday read but I'd be very cautious in recommending it. In spite of that I must confess that I'll read the next one in the series!
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on 12 February 2013
I hesitated about reviewing this book as there are fifteen reviews already published and broadly I agree with most of what has already been said. I did enjoy reading the book and found most of the characters, especially Sister Joan, quite believable. However, the two main 'dark' characters were less so and this led me to give it only four stars. The ending was not quite as obvious as I had thought it would be, so praise for that, but I couldn't help thinking the police were a little more forgiving than they would be in practice. I read the Kindle version and it is well presented with few, if any, typos. I bought the book for 99p and the cost always goes some way in influencing both my enjoyment and my rating. I have to say, though, it is nowhere near worth buying at the full price quoted of over £6.
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on 13 February 2013
Well-plotted and well-written, the main character especially is fascinating: a relatively late-entry nun in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small convent trying to solve a mystery. Not at all like Cadfael, this story is very much set in the modern world, but in one of its less modern corners.

The ending niggled a little in that it involved an element of cover-up (I don't think that's much of a spoiler - I hope not - as it's hinted at in the title), but then I saw that the book was written back in 1990, when such an approach seems to have been preferred by the Catholic Church. I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series to see if that decision comes back to haunt her.
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on 8 September 2015
I read my way through all the 'Vows of...' books and enjoyed them all. Not great literature, but interesting insight into convent life and the character development of the protagonist who takes the veil rather later in life than most nuns. Obviously slightly far-fetched in that the convent would appear to be situated in a crime-heavy area and amazing that the nun is instrumental in helping to solve all the murders and mathem. But cozy bed-time reading.
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