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 . . .
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?