27 May 2010

The Princeton Murders by Ann Waldron

Here is the seventh book I read for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, which puts me just past the halfway point of the Bibliomaniac level.

This book fits into the challenge in several ways:
The main sleuth is a journalist, and her writing course is featured and the classes described several times; the other teachers are writing or have written books (one is a world-famous author) - two even have motives for murder related to their books; and the students are writing assignments that are part of what drives a section of the story.

Genre: Mystery
Year of publication: 2003
No. in series: 1
Series detective: McLeod Dulane
Type of mystery: Murder, cosy
Type of investigator:A, journalist and lecturer in non-fiction writing at Princeton University
Setting & time: Princeton University campus, New Jersey, USA

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist McLeod Dulane is thrilled to be given a chance to teach journalistic writing at Princeton University, but her enthusiasm wanes somewhat when two of her colleagues at the English Department mysteriously die within a short time of each other, from what could be poisoning. A group of her students, eager for some juicy material to research and write about, set out to discover who could have wanted the men dead, and curious to know the truth, McLeod delves into the investigation with them. But then a definite murder is committed...

This is in many ways quite a good crime novel. While it is the author’s first, there is little firstbookitis to worry about, as Waldron is an experienced writer (of journalism, biographies and children’s books). Her experience as a writer is obvious, which is why it surprised me to see her break one of the principles of good writing, the "show, don’t tell" rule. While I am aware that both have their place and sometimes telling is actually more effective than showing (especially in a fast-paced story), in the particular case I am thinking about, showing would have been so much more effective, and there was plenty of text to do it in. In a novel like this, the reader likes to figure out for herself that there is a sinister undertow in the social interactions of the main characters, and not just be told that the sleuth feels this is so, without further explanations.

Other than this tiny annoyance, Waldron does a good job of telling (and showing) a good story, with nice twists and red herrings and a more plausible investigation and investigators than some other cosies I have read. The characterisations of the faculty members are spot on – they are easily recognised academic types, but most have too much depth to be straight-on stereotypes. Add to this that McLeod is a character I like, and I think I have found an author I want to read more books by.

I did spot the killer even before there was any murder, and as the story wore on I did think the author did protest the character's innocence too much at times (I hope I haven't said too much...), but as I have mentioned before, sometimes it's the revelation of motives and opportunities that is important for the enjoyment of a story and not the whodunnit.

An absorbing and interesting academic mystery. 3+ stars.

Visit Ann Waldron's website

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