Lightning Review

The Religious Body by Catherine Aird


The Religious Body

by Catherine Aird

When I’m not in the mood for a romance, I need a cosy mystery, especially an old school murder mystery. Murder mysteries set in post-WW2 Britain – particularly the variety featuring small villages? Yes, please! They tend to lean towards ‘cosy’ on the ‘cosy’ to ‘hard-boiled’ spectrum, and there is a glorious escape from modern technology and its baggage.

If you, too, enjoy this type of story, may I propose Catherine Aird’s book The Religious Body. It was published in 1966 and, to my delight, is the first in a series of sixteen books featuring our main character, Inspector Sloan. He is fastidious with a wry sense of the absurdity and tragedy of human doings. He’s a great lead, but the real star of this show is the plot.

Sister Anne is found dead at the bottom of the cellar stairs at the Convent of St Anselm. The nature of her injuries (a supremely nasty blow to the head) suggests that this was a staged crime scene rather than a case of tumbling down the stairs. As the inspector and his detective constable start digging, it turns out that there are rather a lot of people who wanted to kill this nun. I genuinely could not tell who the killer was, but when it was revealed it left me with a sense of satisfaction as all the clues held together beautifully.

This book hits that glorious sweet spot where it is immediate and cosy in scope, but rich in emotion without becoming overwrought. There is gentle satire too. The narrator’s comments on Inspector Leeyes’ fervour for extra classes in logic, etc. and the impact it has on the inspector’s choice of words… *chef’s kiss* so good!

When I needed a good, steady book, The Religious Body provided. It didn’t leave my heart thumping, but it held my attention with ease until I finished it. It’s a solid dependable reading partner that didn’t let me down. I’ve only read the first in this series as I’m struggling to get my hands on the next installments in the series. My book budget = whatever the library has available!


Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan prays he will find a nun’s murderer in this British crime novel by a Diamond Dagger winner: “A most ingenious writer” (The New York Times).

The day begins like any other for Sister Mary St. Gertrude. When her alarm sounds at 5 a.m., Sister Mary begins rousting her convent sisters from their beds, starting with the Reverend Mother. Down the Order she goes with a knock and a warm blessing. But when the young nun reaches Sister Anne’s door, there is no answer. She assumes that Sister Anne got up early, and continues on her way.

But later, when a fellow nun leaves a bloody thumbprint on the sheet music for a hymn, and Sister Anne is nowhere to be found, it becomes apparent that something is very wrong. Then Sister Anne’s body is found at the bottom of a steep set of stairs, her veil askew and her head crushed.

Religious Body introduces the sophisticated Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan along with his eager and trustworthy sidekick, Detective Constable Crosby, and the acerbic Superintendent Leeyes in a mystery of holy proportions that will have readers guessing until the last page.

This book is available from:
  • Available at Amazon

  • Order this book from Barnes & Noble
  • Order this book from Kobo

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
We also may use affiliate links in our posts, as well. Thanks!

Add Your Comment →

  1. KvZ says:

    Ooo! How exciting. I’ve burned through most of Ngaio Marsh (10/10 would recommend, with the usual caveats that accompany anything written before 1990 or so) and have been hankering for another writer in the genre!

  2. I absolutely love Catherine Aird, and have been reading and rereading her books since the mid-1980s. She will definitely appeal to fans of Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie. (With the usual caveats about things written before 1990 or so, as @KvZ says, although I think Aird’s books have fewer problems with racism or sexism than those of the other authors I mentioned.)

    Three things to note:

    1) There are actually 27 books in the Inspector Sloan series, including a short-story collection or two. The reason it looks like a 16-book series at Amazon is that the first 16 books are available in reprints (in Kindle and paperback) from Open Road Media, and hence are collected as a series separate from the later books. Aird’s more recent books were published and distributed in the US by Minotaur (St. Martin’s Press) and most recently by Severn House. The rights for books 17-27 are still held by one of the latter firms, depending on which originally published it. You can see the whole list of Inspector Sloan books on Goodreads.

    2) Aird also wrote a delightful standalone mystery, also set in the fictional county of Calleshire, called A Most Contagious Game. Thomas Harding, forced into early retirement by a heart conditions, discovers a priest hole in the Tudor mansion he has just purchased… complete with the skeleton of a boy. Fascinated by the discovery and curious about the history of his house, Harding sets out to solve the mystery of who the skeleton belonged to and what happened to him. But the village has been rocked by another, much more recent murder, and the chief suspect is still at large…

    (3) And finally, if you discover you enjoy Aird, keep an eye on the Open Road titles (books #1-16), because they often go on sale for $1.99 or $2.99.

  3. MaryK says:

    On the cozy mystery front, I’d recommend any of the several series by Charlotte MacLeod/Alisa Craig.

  4. MaryK says:

    @Lark – Aird is apparently still writing? I’ve seen an ad for a new book, Constable Country (Sloan and Crosby Book 28), coming out in June. As far as I can tell, it’s not a reprint.

  5. Sue says:

    Aside from the comments above, you can find quite a few of the older Catherine Aird books on OpenLibrary.

    And ditto the recommend on Charlotte MacLeod/Alisa Craig. Some of those are on my regular reread stack.

  6. Sandra says:

    Agree on the MacLeod/Craig books. Haven’t reread recently but I have quite a few on my keeper shelf, alongside the Christies, Marshes, and Stouts.

  7. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    A little grittier, but for mid-century English women mystery writers, Margaret York & Celia Dale have big backlists and write enjoyable, twisty mysteries, often with a focus on emerging social issues of the day.

  8. catscatscats says:

    I glommed the Aird books during the pandemic, and would recommend; I left one unread so I always have one more I could read if desperate. I did feel for Crosby, who never matures. I also had not to think too hard about the timeline – Aird makes the decision not to let her characters age (much? I think at all, but may be wrong), whilst society changes around them. The one where a body is found when excavating a bomb site is particularly interesting in showing how close the early books are to the war (it’s A Late Phoenix, 1971).

  9. @Sarah, apparently she is still writing. Not as quickly as when she was younger, but at 92, that’s not surprising. Thank you for letting me know! I’m glad to hear there’s another coming out; the last one was published in 2019. I’m putting it on my wish list!

    Also, I was too quick when I said that Aird’s more recent books were published by Minotaur or Severn House. It looks like only one was released in the US by Severn House (#27, Inheritance Tracks.) Several others have been published by Allison & Busby in both the UK and the US, and it looks like Constable Country will also.

  10. Lace says:

    It’s been a while since I read them, but one aspect I enjoyed about Aird’s mysteries was that her books show far more awareness of the business world than most in the subgenre, in a good way. It’s not all country-squire-world settings and motives that feel increasingly implausible post-WW2.

  11. @Lace, if you haven’t read them, you might also check out Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James series. Well-written, well-plotted contemporary police procedurals with the sensitivity and compassion sometimes lacking in police procedurals. Like Aird’s books, they feel more like… well, not cozies, exactly, but like the better Golden Age mysteries (I’m thinking here of Sayers and Marsh), but written with modern sensibilities in mind. The first book is good, but I don’t think Crombie really hit her stride until book two.

  12. Jen M. says:

    I just got this one in from the library on your rec and it was delightful. I’m excited to dig into the series!

Add Your Comment

Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↑ Back to Top