Any good academic mystery is always a treat. Robert M. Roseth’s Ivy is a Weed is a good academic mystery.
The story takes place at a thinly disguised University of Washington, Seattle campus. For the most part it’s a spot-on satire of bureaucratic life at a large public university — or corporation, for that matter, and therein lies one of the themes of the novel. Protagonist and amateur sleuth Mike Woodsen, who normally does PR for the university, assigns himself the task of solving what certainly looks like a murder, but the Powers That Be vigorously deny it. If you have any experience with a large university, public or private, you will recognize most of the people and actions in the story. In fact, although I refer to it as satire — and that’s what it is — it sticks pretty close to reality, as almost all good satires do. One notable exception is also one of the many points of humor in the novel: the titles given to the bloated bureaucrats at the top of the food chain and the programs they represent. Here are three examples:
- Associate Vice Leader for Aural Excellence, Champion of the Golden Name
- Vice President for People, Promise, Programs, and Purpose Enhancement
- College of Real Estate Leverage and Speculative Construction
OK, those are a bit over the top, but just barely.
I do have a couple of reservations about things that might bother some readers. One is that the ending doesn’t quite wrap everything up and “restore order,” as mysteries are supposed to do. Obviously I can’t reveal anything that would be a spoiler, so let’s just say that you can infer the solution to the mystery (probably), but it’s not explicit, and certainly not everyone learns the truth. The other reservation is that there are a couple of pages that are not suitable for children and could easily have been omitted from the narrative.
Otherwise this is a well-written book if you like academic mysteries, as I always do. It’s definitely worth reading. You’re not going to find dramatic chase scenes and the like (well, maybe one), and you have to be willing to enjoy straightforward journalistic prose (as I am). I look forward to more books by this author.