How many professors can you bury? (academic mystery)

Poison Ivy, by Cynthia Riggs

Cynthia Riggs’ Martha’s Vineyard mystery Poison Ivy takes place at a small college on the Vineyard, Ivy Green, where nonagenarian crime-solver Victoria Trumbull is an adjunct poetry professor. I loved Mrs. Trumbull as a poetry teacher focused on her students’ expression in various poetic forms; and as advocate for three students whose research is plagiarized by their tenure-seeking sociology professor. An overarching theme is the (often abusive) power struggle that plays out in a dozen deadly ways in the college tenure process.

Mrs. Trumbull finds the first body– a tenured professor dead a few weeks without anyone missing him. Thanks to the caretaker’s dog who has a nose for cadavers, more bodies are exhumed. Soon the campus is pock-marked by graves dug by a perfectly respectable serial killer twisted and scarred from his own tenure ordeal. As the drama unfolded, I cheered for the two women who opted out of tenure madness and admired Riggs’ masterful use of absurdity. Brava!

Rich in Christian Values (academic mystery)

Thoughts on Sylvia Nash, The Book of Secrets

Academic Mystery, Christian book

So often I hear “page turner” or “can’t put it down” as hallmarks of a good mystery. The Book of Secrets, by Sylvia Nash, is a thoughtful Christian mystery whose interwoven themes of secrets, friendship, and forgiveness are careful developed through the interaction of a cohesive group of friends and those they are closest to. While the story has plenty of action and suspense, the book is best enjoyed by savoring and reflecting on a few chapters at a time. I don’t know many mysteries that have touched me so deeply or allowed me to know and love the victim and learn from the victim’s wisdom.

The book opens with Aunt Mae’s death, and the reader comes to know Aunt Mae through those who knew her and who seek justice for her murder. Six girls wrote their secrets in a book Aunt Mae kept in a private place, and one of those secrets led to the murders of three people on three successive Sundays. The six girlfriends, now grown women, disagree about revealing their secrets in order to solve the crime, and it’s through their emotional debate that Nash explores forgiving one another, forgiving ourselves, and trusting that those who love us can and will forgive us for our human failings.

The heroine, Millicent Anderson, a religion professor at Edmonds College, is a strong determined woman who drives the action to successful resolution. She is criticized by some of the characters as being perfect, as not having dark secrets, and not understanding why her friends insisted on protecting the devastating errors they made in the past. I felt distant from Millicent for those reasons, too, and I saw that as a weakness of the book. Nevertheless, this was a satisfying mystery, rich in Christian values. I strongly recommend it for a fireside read over several evenings, with time to reflect between sessions.