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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Old Girls by Jaya Gulhaugen is a delightful murder mystery that absolutely enchanted me. The girls of a former exclusive, “elite” finishing school called Dunluce in London have been meeting every ten years for a reunion for as long as anyone can remember. With many of the old girls dying off and those left now in their nineties, it is clear this latest get-together will probably be their last. Ninety-one-year-old Peggy Gilman has traveled from New York for the reunion, along with her daughter, Jane, and intends to stay with her dearest friend from school, Miriam. When the pair arrives at Miriam’s place, she is nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, they know a spare key is kept in the gumboot at the front door. Letting themselves in, they sit down to rest and await Miriam’s arrival home. A walk on the patio to get some fresh air gives Peggy a massive shock when she discovers Miriam’s lifeless body in one of the chairs. Although everyone assumes Miriam’s heart finally just gave out, something niggles at Peggy that there is more to this than meets the eye. Peggy and Jane set out to investigate and discover who, if anyone, may have wanted Miriam dead earlier than her time. When a second old girl of the school is also discovered dead, the plot thickens and the need to find the killer, if there is indeed one, becomes paramount for the few surviving old girls. So begins a fascinating and compelling murder mystery that had its origins in the early days of the Second World War for this nonagenarian sleuth.
Old Girls was way more than I initially expected. Author Jaya Gulhaugen has created a delightful character in the ninety-one-year-old Peggy. Very much in the vein of Dame Ngaio Marsh or Agatha Christie, the author has created a character that appeals to all of us. Peggy really could be anyone’s great-grandmother. Her lack of understanding of tech is so relatable and yet she knows exactly what to do when confronted by modern things that befuddle her senses. “When in doubt – ask a kid.” It was clear that the girls who attended Dunluce were very much the children of privilege and wealth so I particularly enjoyed the idea that no matter what advantage these people may have had in life, all of them had regrets or skeletons in the closet that they were not proud of. The author does an excellent job of creating and then disposing of red herrings all through the narrative. The sign of a good murder/mystery is one that keeps the reader guessing till the very end who the miscreant may have been. This story definitely does that and in a style that is very relatable. I found it an easy single-session read – perfect for a cold Sunday afternoon in front of the fire. I do believe this is just one in a series of sleuthing stories undertaken by Peggy and this encourages me to seek out more from this author. I loved this story and can highly recommend it.