Christabel MacKenzie is a 17-year-old student attending the Scottish Institute for the Education of the Daughters of Gentlefolk in Edinburgh. Like most of the students there, Christabel’s family is well to do. In fact, her aunt is a friend of the Empress Eugenie of France. It is when the Empress decides to visit Edinburgh—and the Institute—that bad things start to happen. First, a replica of the Empress’ jeweled diadem goes missing, then a servant girl is pushed down a flight of stairs after a tryst with her paramour.
Christabel, concerned about both the theft and the murder, begins to ask questions. She is helped by Eleanor Stewart, her botany tutor at the Institute. But they are more than just student and tutor. Christabel has a terrific crush on Eleanor—only a year her senior—that is fully reciprocated. So when Christabel deliberately makes bad scores on her science tests, Eleanor is given permission to give her private lessons at Christabel’s home. This comes in handy because it gives the two young women not only time alone together, but the freedom to investigate both inside and outside the school.
This is a rather delicious book that deserves way more attention and more reviews than it has garnered thus far. Its publication date—1989—shows it to be far ahead of its tune. The relationship between Christabel and Eleanor is very believable and touching. Although their intimacies are limited to quick kisses and phrases like “They put their arms around each other and one thing led to another,” we do believe in their love for each other and are rooting for them all the way.
In the process of the novel, the author goes into some detail about the Institute, which was one of the first to provide more than a cursory, parlor education for girls. We learn that not only was this unusual, but it was mostly frowned upon. Senior instructors had to have college degrees, which most women didn’t have at the time so that only men taught the higher levers of study. And Eleanor’s passion to become a full-fledged doctor is treated with derision by the male doctors she comes in contact with. The intricacies of the Institute are well set up, as are the plot and the resolution of the mystery. I especially liked the author’s rendering of Scottish dialect.
This is the first Young Adult lesbian mystery I have come across. In fact, it may be the only YA lesbian mystery, although I would very much like to read others.
Give it a thumb’s up with every hand you have. In an interview, the author states that she began a sequel, but never finished it. Pity.
For other reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/ or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries