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 . . .
Colleges have come a long was from the old Lecture/Recitation model of education. Today’s undergraduate students learn valuable life lessons in the field through civil engagement, and they get hands-on real-life experience by participating in their professors’ research projects. As an author and avid reader, I’m enjoying the new crop of academic mysteries that show students gathering and analyzing data and engaging in other aspects of timely scholarly research.
Two authors are stand outs: Lesley A. Diehl and Charlene D’Avanzo.
Diehl’s character Laura Murphy is a psychology professor in upstate New York. In the 2016 mystery from Creekside Publishing, Failure is Fatal, Laura’s ongoing study in sexual harassment on campus is at the heart of the story. A student is murdered, and the description of the murder is one of the anonymous responses to the study’s current round of data gathering. This is not a grisly or grim tale, however, as Diehl’s humor and Laura’s ability to tick people off keep the reader laughing and eyerolling all the way to the end.
An environmental educator and researcher, D’Avanzo specializes in marine ecology. Her 2016 (Torrey House Publishing) academic mystery, Cold Blood Hot Sea, throws the reader into the contentious field of environmental research, including scientific fraud and sabotage. At the book’s heart is a smart resourceful warm-hearted woman scholar, Dr. Mara Tusconi, who teaches and does research at the Maine Oceanographic Institution, surrounded by eager students and ambitious colleagues. Every twist of this page turner reveals more about the cutting edge field of study, its methods, and the scholars in training who will carry the work forward.
Looking for a compelling read that educates you while it challenges and satisfies your inner sleuth? Pick up Failure is Fatal or Cold Blood Hot Sea and hang on tight.
Written the year I was born, Miss Pym Disposes is an academic cozy to be treasured. I curled up with the book each evening, savored the storytelling, and was drawn more and more into the extensive cast of vividly-drawn characters. I came to understand their individual responses to the injustices at Leys College. With Lucy Pym as my window on academic affairs, I soon wanted the beautiful Nut Tart to marry Richard, I wanted the hardworking Inneses to be proud of their difficult daughter, Mary, and I wanted Miss Pym to flee back to London rather than face her sad duty of telling on a murderer. I didn’t mind that the murder didn’t happen until nearly the end of the book, because I knew a murder was coming. Whose, I couldn’t guess. And the murderer I couldn’t guess. Like Miss Pym, I got it wrong. I identified with Lucy Pym’s increasing agony as an observer of injustice who suddenly holds the key piece of a deadly puzzle in her hand. Will she or won’t she tell?
As I undertake a scene in Prague for book two, I have firmly in mind Anne Faigen’s portrayal in Frame Work of the city’s history and its compelling reminders of the Holocaust. Faigen brings the city alive with warmly interesting characters, notably an art history professor who explores the city with a keen eye and an awareness of its controversial past. I’m so grateful I read the book before visiting Prague last fall. I added scenes from the book as stops on my walking tours of the city and was richly rewarded!
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.
From the Golden Age of Mystery, Catherine Aird’s Parting Breath was a gentle deceiver for me. A classic cozy. I enjoyed getting to know the all-too-human Inspector Sloan and all the players at the University of Calleshire, where students are clever adventurers and faculty are so specialized they fall short of genuine conversation. I loved the English Professor who’d been at it long enough to be suspicious of the murderer from the start (because he didn’t act like what he professed to be) and who endured disappointment and deception by focusing on her own scholarly path. Red herrings everywhere! I think Catherine Aird must have enjoyed writing this whodunit, and I’d like to take that delight in deception, puzzlement, and storytelling into my current WIP.
Thoughts on Bernadette Pajer’s academic mystery, Capacity for Murder
My shaky command of electricity was not an obstacle to enjoying Capacity for Murder, the third Professor Bradshaw Mystery by Bernadette Pajer. While Bradshaw is an acclaimed expert in electricity at the start of the 1900s, Pajer gives ample information for the reader to understand how an electrotherapy device figures into a murder at a health resort on the coast of Washington State. There is nothing dry or erudite about this academic mystery. It is an evocative, fast-paced story of a highly-principled but flawed investigator and his unflagging hunt for a murderer without conscience. I was especially impressed with Pajer’s ability to show the various settings of the story through the sensitive perception of the professor. Also, Bradshaw’s tenderness with his 10-year-old child is a beautiful and effective counter to the cold-blooded murder of a beloved man that opens the book. I’m eager to read more of the Professor Bradshaw Mysteries.