Like many college departments, the English faculty at Stonedale University in Colorado has many issues that all faculty members face: publish or perish; follow old curriculum or create new courses; work hard to try to gain tenure; don’t step on the older, long-term teachers’ feet. When Lila Maclean, the new professor, first meets with old-school department chair Roland Higgins, he tells her: “And let me be direct…. As a rule, junior faculty members need to talk less and listen more.” Teaching at the college level is not only about who teaches well; it is about learning the rules and playing nicely.
Lila Maclean is thrilled to be hired at Stonedale, an-almost-Ivy-league College, but does not anticipate a series of murders of her department members.
This newest faculty member discovers the first body: “among the many horrors to be encountered at an English department meeting, a dead body was not usually one of them.” This is only the beginning in a series of incidents. Our protagonist becomes an amateur sleuth.
Like most good mystery writers, Kuhn has placed the first murder smack at the end of
Chapter One. A few other somewhat predictable elements are dark basement halls; a dungeon-type meeting room; and a secret society. A mysterious insignia re-appears in surprising places.
Although the book (definitely in the cozy category) is a bit formulaic, it is the first in a new series. Things may happen somewhat as one might expect, but this reader never guessed the murderer. Having been an English professor, I can attest that many of these characters and their motivations run true; however, more backstory on their lives outside the academy would have helped flesh out the story. Despite the good and important work with students that professors do, a lot of infighting and backstabbing exist within faculties. However, luckily few chair people seem as sexist or rigid as a couple of these corpses were while alive.
Several academic mystery series exist, as academic life, is, indeed, fascinating, complex and highly political. One of the earliest, most successful was the intrepid English professor, Kate Fansler, created by Amanda Cross (a pseudonym for a famous academic), published beginning in the
The readers of Kuhn’s new mystery series would most likely be English teachers and other academics or those desiring to find out more of the internal workings of higher education. This reader looks forward to watching Maclean’s progress in the English department and in her sleuthing work .
Cynthia Kuhn, professor of English, teaches literature and writing at MSU Denver.