It’s academic.

Passport to Murder; Death by Committee; The Black Hour. My imagined Final Jeopardy clue says “This is is what all three titles have in common.”


OK, enough suspense: the answer is “What are three titles of recent academic mysteries?”

But here’s where I add “One of these is not like the others.” Yes, they’re all mysteries, and they’re all academic — in that all three are focused on universities — but the first two are basically light cozies, whereas The Black Hour is dark, serious, and dense. So, if your reading preferences are very specific, consider yourself warned. All three feature protagonists who are newly tenured protagonists functioning as amateur detectives. We’ll take them one at a time:

  • Passport to Murder, by Mary Angela, is apparently #2 in a series, but I haven’t read #1 so I can’t comment on the entire series. Let me just say that starting with #2 didn’t cause me any obvious problems. This light mystery features young English Professor Emmeline Prather of Copper Bluff, SD, as the amateur detective. It’s fast-moving, engaging, and non-violent (except, of course, for the obligatory murder). Her fictional university appears to be the University of South Dakota, but what do I know? What I did always know was that I didn’t want to chaperone a group of students on their trip to France, and this novel confirms that view.
  • Death by Committee, by Carol Shmurak, is a remarkably convincing account of conflicts among professors, one of whom is up for tenure at Metropolitan University, a fictionalized version of Central Connecticut State University. Fortunately tenure fights don’t usually results in murder (so far as I know), but of course you couldn’t have a murder mystery without one. Otherwise it is quite realistic, and all is entertaining. Like the Mary Angela novel, it’s second in a series but clearly you don’t have to have read the first one (I haven’t).
  • The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day, is another kettle of fish altogether, as I suggested above. It takes place at a lightly disguised Northwestern University, where the protagonist is a sociologist appropriately studying the sociology of violence. The characters, plot, and atmosphere are all much more complex than the books by Angela and Shmurak. It’s also much more class-conscious, appropriately so for a book featuring sociologists. Unlike the first two, it’s definitely not a quick read, being more a psychological study or a mainstream novel than a work of genre fiction.

All three are well-written and worth your time.

Categories: Books