Beth Saulnier's first hardcover novel, Bad Seed is actually the fourth of her Alex Bernier mysteries (Distemper, Reliable Sources, The Fourth Wall), and finishing this one will send readers heading right back to the bookstore for the others. Starring a saucy twenty-something newspaper reporter whose nose for news puts her right in the thick of things more often than not, Bad Seed rockets Saulnier to the head of the chick-detective pack, right up there with the likes of Patricia Cornwell and Sue Grafton.
What makes this such a great read? Everything. A likable, self-deprecatingly funny protagonist; an ensemble of well-drawn characters -- both good guys and bad; a singularly liberal little upstate New York college town; a mad plot filled with action, danger, honest-to-murgatroid mystery, pathos, romance, grand ethical dilemmas, and lots of laughs. Saulnier's pacing is right on, and no one who reads Bad Seed can say at its end that they don't know now how a small daily newspaper runs.
When an academic murder leaves Benson College PR flack Lane Freeman dead by poison and his ag-dean wife in prison, no one in small-town Gabriel is surprised, since to all appearances they were the unhappiest couple in the history of unhappy couples. Nor does anyone take particular note of the anti-GMO protest happening outside a conference at the school on agricultural biotechnology -- until a few bombs destroy part of the campus, and the school's popular and revered head biotech professor is found beaten to death. Not satisfied with the obvious explanations for the sudden upswing in mayhem and murder, reporter Alex Bernier does a little digging, and comes up with a treasure trove of suspects and secrets, including a morally questionable plan to introduce genetically modified foods to an unsuspecting populace. But those who wish their secrets to remain so will stop at nothing to save themselves and their ideals. Bad Seed is a delicious treat, especially for socially thoughtful types who appreciate a sassy sense of humor.