I focus on academic mysteries in my blog entries. These are not formal book reviews, simply my thoughts as an author and avid reader of traditional mysteries. Often, something about the way characters are drawn or the way settings are introduced motivates me to freshen my style, broaden my skills, or simply admire a master of the craft. If you have a favorite academic mystery, whether it’s recent or long ago, please share.
Gosh, I thought I knew every academic mystery author! Imagine my delight when my editor called my attention to Canadian author Cathy Ace and her dual-sleuth academic mystery series. Former police detective, Bud Anderson, and psychology professor, Cait Morgan, solve crimes together in wonderful locations around the globe. Most recent in the series is The Corpse with the Ruby Lips, set in Budapest. Since I visited Budapest just over a year ago, I was happy to start there with the Cait Morgan Mysteries. Any needed background appeared just in time, and I admired the way Ace handled the history and culture of the city as integral to the story. Best of all was the dialogue between Bud and Cait as they problem solve together, disagree with one another, and express their deep caring as a newly married couple. This series is a keeper, and I know I’ll enjoy the locales the books before Budapest.
Nancy Skopin’s sixth Nikki Hunter PI mystery, A Side Order of Murder, deals with the deadly results when a physics professor involves a small hand-picked group of students in controversial research. Nikki is hired by one of the students who’s sure his professor’s death was not suicide and who fears someone is also trying to kill him. (Hint: the technology wizardry reminded me of the more recent version of the Manchurian Candidate.) Nikki leads the student on a thrilling race for their lives that combines Outward-Bound pedagogy with old-fashioned do-or-die. Side Order is a lean, fast-paced plot featuring a timid student who grows into a resourceful confident man on Nikki’s watch. While the rest of the series may not be academic, I’ll be reading every book!
Peter Lovesey has written two academic mysteries, one featuring Peter Diamond, The Last Detective, the other featuring Sergeant Cribb, Swing, Swing Together. In both cases, I marveled at the plot twists, and I enjoyed the ongoing tension generated by the personality of each detective.
What a master Lovesey is of leading the reader to absolute certainty that each suspect in turn must be the killer. I failed to guess the correct identity both times. And that little added mystery concerning each title’s meaning? He reveals it only the end, both times, and it feels like the cherry on top of the hot-fudge sundae.
There’s nothing formulaic about Lori Rader-Day’s academic mystery, The Black Hour. The 2014 mystery from Seventh Street Books is a dark gritty look at the power differential between professors and students and, especially, the deadly consequences that can result from abuse of that power in academia. It is filled with insight into the dynamics of healing from trauma and the fascinating ways both professor and student confront and/or rationalize blatantly unethical behavior.
Writing mysteries feels like driving a coach with four feisty horses under my reins: my two sleuths, Kyle and Lyssa; the killer; and the victim. Letting each of them have their heads would mean disaster, but they’re the force that propels the story. My job is to keep them working together. No wonder my hands hurt all the time!
This photo shows book two of The Penningtons Investigate, obviously a work in progress. The 20 chapters are drafted, and I’ve just done a critical read-through and chapter-by-chapter analysis, noting flaws, missed opportunities, development of the character arcs (his, hers, and theirs), progress of the investigation, and so on. I didn’t do that for book one, but my wonderful editor did.
I humbly learn with each book.
The plan is to have the full revision in the hands of my wonderful editor and my beta readers by year’s end. I’ll bet your process is different, isn’t it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Authors have their share of good reviews and bad, but for this author it’s heart-warming when a reviewer really gets what I’ve tried to do with a book. That’s why I feel compelled to share a line from a review of Planted, posted to Amazon on July 17. The reader, Mr. Herman, begins by calling the book “charming,” and asserts, “At the end, I felt as sorry for one of the villains as I did for the man who was murdered….that takes a good writer!”
When I read the review, I was speechless, and a smile spread across my face. I try to bring compassion to my writing, not just for the victim but for many of the characters. Certainly for the victim’s loved ones, and sometimes for a villain whose life has gone haywire. Thank you, Mr. Herman, for responding to to that facet of the story and for taking the time to say so!
And now, back to writing book two of The Penningtons Investigate . . .