Years before becoming a nun, Sister Joan and a group of her art school classmates made a pact. Now, during a reunion, Sister Joan learns that three members of their group have died in horrible accidents. When a picture arrives with a black circle drawn around Joan, she figures she is next. Sixth in the popular series.
Black continues her delightful Sister Joan series with a clever college reunion caper. When Sister Joan receives an anonymously sent group photograph of her art school classmates, she is reminded of a youthful promise to meet 20 years later at Westminster Abbey. Much to Sister Joan's surprise, Mother Dorothy grants her permission to travel to London to attend the reunion. Dismayed to learn that three of her former friends had suffered violent deaths, she undertakes a quiet investigation. The tension escalates as the remaining seven agree to participate in a retreat conducted by the Daughters of Compassion and supervised by Sister Joan. As all of the suspects gather in Cornwall, it becomes increasingly evident that the group is targeted by a twisted mind harboring a festering grudge. A suspenseful, contemplative mystery featuring an utterly engaging heroine who delicately balances her dedication to God with a talent for detection.
Sister Joan, of the tiny Order of the Daughters of Compassion in Cornwall, faces the most personal of her forays into crime- solving (A Vow of Devotion, 1995, etc.). A photograph received in the mail, with no sender noted, of her first-year art class, reminds Sister Joan that the group of ten had promised to reunite in 20 years, at Westminster Abbeythe date just a few days hence. Permission granted, she heads for London to meet the others: quiet Dodie Mason, married to engineer Colin, mother of two; bubbly Fiona, still a beauty, still unattached; Barbara Ford, then a nonentity, now an elegant career woman recently returned from New Zealand; buxom Serena, two divorces later, still living on Daddy's fortune. Two men have turned up alsohandsome Derek Smith, whose wife Sally died three years before in a fall, and Paul Vance, who seems to have turned from straight to gay over the years. Missing is Bryan Grimes, killed in a hit and run, and Serge Roskoff, dead of a drug overdosehis pathetic young girlfriend later found dead, her throat slit. A lot of mortality for a small group of youngish people, Sister Joan muses as she awaits the group for a week's retreat at the convent. But that's not the half of it, Sister Joan will discover, as falsehoods are uncovered, domestic lives laid bare, old crimes revealed and new ones committed.
The lean narrative and vivid sense of menace are undermined, in the end, by some clunky plot and contrivances of character, but it's an intriguing puzzle a good part of the way.