Title: Miss Timmins’ School for Girls
Author: Nayana Currimbhoy
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Murder, Detective Story
PP: 512 pages
Boarding schools have always had a close spot in my heart. Though as a child, I would have hated the thought of being sent to one, however as I read more of them in my adulthood, I wish my parents would have sent me to one. I miss being a part of a larger culture, which is a world in its own. All boarding schools are.
The story takes place in a boarding school in Panchgani, India, where upper class girls mix with British missionaries and rock and roll, drugs, and other influences of the time-it is the mid 1970’s and the times, well, they truly are a-changing.
Our heroine is Charu, a new teacher at Miss Timmins. It’s her first job and she is barely older-or more experienced than the girls she is teaching. She forms a friendship with another teacher with a very different personality and lifestyle. Moira prince has joined the 70s with a vengeance and it is through her that Charu meets the world of hot music and illicit drugs.
And where, Charu is left to wonder, does the Shakespeare she’s been hired to teach, fit into this new world?
This book is a beautiful well-written novel. So good a novel, in fact, that I forgot it is a murder mystery. So I was appropriately surprised when in the middle of monsoon season, at night (of course) a teacher is murdered. The school’s careful surface is shattered and the local town is delighted to jump upon it with gossip and speculation. I loved how the writer made use of what was happening in the world and connected it with the school. The fact that a school so well-sheltered is now thrown into chaos and uncertainty after a murder takes place.
I enjoyed this book as a murder mystery but also as so much more. It was fascinating to read about the India of the 70s with the sudden clash of Indian culture, British imperialism, and the new wave of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. So as a lover of murder mysteries and as a lover of political-sociological studies (especially when presented in compelling fictional form) this book had me hooked.
The characters are well-drawn. Not only are the major characters fascinating but all of the minor ones as well had distinct voices and stories and caught my interest. Currimbhoy is a wonderful writer who takes the murder mystery beyond its genre (as good mysteries do) to examine issues of class and social mores. It is the venue that got me going: Boarding schools seems to create a world onto their own, full of the intensity of adolescent friendships and angsts and teacher eccentricities. I loved books set in boarding schools when I was a child and adolescent and now, on the other side of life, I love reading them even more. This is a wonderful book that I recommend not only to lovers of mysteries but to all lovers of fiction and those interested in how world upheavals play out on the smallest scales.