SNARES OF THE ENEMY is the first novel by Pauline King, a British writer whose background as a nurse and a Catholic lends an exceptional degree of authenticity to her description of life at Ambelhurst School.
Murder intrudes on the tranquility and traditions of the school when Matron Mary O’Connell is found stabbed to death, and Detective-Inspector Morgan quickly assembles a list of likely suspects from among Ambelhurst’s staff and students.
For the Inspector, however, the case is far from routine, and he finds himself fascinated by the lives of the monks who run the school. As the hunt for the murderer progresses, Morgan explores the world of Catholicism and confronts his own initial mistrust of the Church, a reflection of the teachings of his Baptist grandfather.
SNARES OF THE ENEMY is strongest in its depiction of the life behind Ambelhurst’s ancient walls. The daily routine of the monks and the students-- disrupted now by the murder--and the running of the school itself provide a vividly developed backdrop for the playing out of the murder case. The character of Evan Morgan himself is an interesting one. Cast very much in the mold of the traditional British detective rather than that of his hard-boiled American counterpart, the Inspector is a thoughtful, soft-spoken man, given to quoting from the Bible, who will interrupt his investigation to watch a cricket match and whose introspective manner makes him particularly susceptible to the charms of Ambelhurst.
The book’s central story line is perhaps its weakest point, with farfetched plot twists and simplistic character motivations marring an otherwise intriguing mystery. King also displays an occasional tendency toward provincialism, populating the school with several Latin and Irish characters who are unfailingly hot-blooded and hysterical.
Overall, however, SNARES OF THE ENEMY is an enjoyable mystery that profits from its unusual setting.