Author: Margot Kinberg
Publisher: Eloquent Books 
Length: 211 pages
Genre: Amateur sleuth/police procedural
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating: 3.5/5
One-liner: A light and delightful mystery
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Nick Merrill is a graduate student at Tilton University where he is also a tutor and software developer. He’s popular with his students, is juggling sexual relationships with two women and looks like being successful in both an academic and commercial sense with his new software. Unfortunately for Nick, Tilton University is a hotbed of insecure, ruthless and desperate people, any of whom could have it in for him. His two love interests find out about each other, his fellow graduate student is incensed when Nick receives an award she believes is due to her and his academic mentor might just be taking credit for Nick’s hard work in a last-ditch effort to obtain tenured status.
I have read Margot Kinberg’s excellent blog for a while now and one of the things that is crystal clear is that she is a fan of classic crime fiction, in particular the work of Agatha Christie. It probably won’t come as any surprise then that this book reminded me in some ways of those great Christie tales in which readers are introduced to the victim and all the potential suspects before a murder takes place. It didn’t really strike me until I re-read a couple of Christie novels this year that this particular style of introducing people doesn’t happen much anymore but when done well, as it is here, it’s an excellent way to draw readers quickly into the story because you ‘know’ the victim and are invested in finding out which of these people you’ve met is a killer. In procedurals and even in most ‘cosy’ mysteries someone stumbles across the body of an unknown person and only meets the suspects after the murder has occurred which means you never see the characters behaving ‘normally’. Introducing them all before the death gives a different, more intimate, perspective that I find I really enjoy.
There’s a full cast of interesting characters here including Joel Williams who is a former policeman turned Professor at the University whose classes are observed by Nick as part of his work as a research assistant. When there is a murder, and then another one, Williams uses his contacts at the police station to learn what’s happening with the investigation and uses his own skills and access to University personnel and students to assist the police with the case. Even some of his students get in on the act in a quite delightful thread although they soon decide that murder investigation is a little more dangerous than what they’ve seen on TV.
As Kinberg is herself an Associate Professor at an American University I can only presume that she has depicted the environment well which means it must be a scary place to work! It reminded me of those small town mysteries I enjoy so much where all the characters are connected in some way and seemingly all have at least one secret the want kept hidden. I would recommend the book to anyone who wants a light, well-written mystery without a lot of blood and violence and lots of good old-fashioned plot threads to unravel.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Full Disclosure: I won a copy of this book in a ‘name a character’ competition at the author’s website