An academic mystery! And it was free!
A couple of years ago I struggled to finish the Vintage Mystery Challenge. And by struggled I mean I could barely get myself to get started, and I only had to read four books but I almost didn’t make it over a period of 12 months. D’oh! But, I did finish, on the last day of the year, and my reward was a free book. I picked Hazel Holt’s Murder on Campus because I always like a good academic mystery.
Holt’s main character is Sheila Malory, a widow from England who’s been invited to a small college in Pennsylvania to teach a class on 19th century women and to work with a couple of graduate students interested in the same topic. I hadn’t read any of the other books in the series, but apparently Mrs. Malory is not an academic, as she was intimidated by the prospect of fulfilling these duties, but she is an expert on the subject and it doesn’t seem to take her long to adjust. She is welcomed by two friends who live in the United States, a woman who lives in New York and her sister who teaches in the department.
Unfortunately, though, Mrs. Malory’s new department is rife with politics, factions, and murder. Just after she arrives, a particularly loathsome member of the faculty is found murdered, and it seems that nearly everyone had a motive to kill him, or at least wish him dead. The investigating officer, a small-town cop who likes Shakespeare, sees an opportunity to ask Sheila to investigate for him, a convenient reason for them to meet from time to time.
On the academic side, the story’s not terribly realistic, although no worse than some and better than many academic mysteries I’ve read. I’m not denying that academic politics can be cutthroat, but the way this department operates is like nothing I’ve ever encountered, particularly the way individual faculty members have power and decision-making abilities without having a line of authority to support them. On the other hand, I enjoyed the fact that faculty members are actually seen working, at least sometimes.
As for the mystery, it’s not one that I could’ve solved given the same information that Mrs. Malory had, but I didn’t feel cheated and did feel surprised when she revealed the killer.
All in all, this was a quick, light read, and it’s one I’m sharing with an academic mystery loving colleague the next time I see her.