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Tuesday, May 01, 2018

The Semester of Our Discontent

I picked up The Semester of Our Discontent because I thought it was a clever title, it is in a subgenre known as "academic mysteries," and it was only $2.99. It was okay, but gets undone by a preposterous ending.

The book won an Agatha Award, which honors the best in the "cozy" genre, that is, mysteries in which murders take place off-page, the detective is an amateur, and it takes place in a fairly closed location. The best example of a cozy is Agatha's Christie's Miss Jane Marple books, hence the name of the award.

The author is Cynthia Kuhn, who is a professor of English at the same college where my nephew attends in Denver. She would seem to have the skinny on the politics of an academic department, but some things seemed wrong to me, based on information gleaned from my friend, who has been an English professor for over thirty years. It also seems to be set in the past, because no one sends emails.

Kuhn's sleuth is Lila MacLean, who is in her first year of teaching at Stonedale College in Colorado. She has a difficult meeting with the obnoxious department chair, and then he turns up murdered, a knife in his chest. There will be another murder, and MacLean has some close scrapes. Her cousin, who also teaches there, is arrested for the crime, and won't talk about a strange symbol of rose and thorns, even though the symbol is tattooed on her back.

Cozies are the opposite of noirs, as the sleuths are good people who have no doubts. MacLean does some of her own investigating, and does withhold information from the police, a problem in these kind of mysteries.

But where the book falls apart is the ending. The killer, who I won't name, holds MacLean at gun point and confesses everything she's done. The killer's motive is also very lame.

If you like mysteries set on college campuses I recommend this, but be prepared to be disappointed by the ending.

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