Farber, Arkansas, a college town, where Claire Malloy supports her fourteen year-old daughter by running an academic bookstore. Professor of Passion is hardly the sort of material that she normally stocks, but her friend Mildred, the real identity of author Azalea Twilight, insists on holding the book launch at the shop. What could go wrong?
When passages from the book are read aloud to the gathered masses at the launch, it becomes apparent that Azalea Twilight has an axe to grind. The book is full of thinly veiled references to genuine scandals among the university faculty, including Claire’s late husband. It leaves a lot of people very angry – and one person angry enough to follow Mildred home to kill her…
Another author and series with a large back catalogue that I’ve never heard of before, but the nice folk at Bello asked me to review this one – the first, by the way – which has been re-released in electronic and paper formats, so I thought, why not?
It probably falls into the cosy category, by the skin of its teeth. By which I mean, to tick off my personal checklist:
- Not Agatha Christie – check
- Distinctive career for sleuth – bookseller, check.
- Large entourage of supporting and clearly innocent friends – nope. Everyone’s a suspect here – at times there is the potential for anyone to be the killer.
- Cute animal – nope, not that I noticed.
- Love interest – well, I’m guessing that things are going to develop between Claire and the adversarial but slightly flirty Lieutenant Rosen but it’s early days at the moment.
- No gore – check, although there are a couple of descriptions of Mildred’s body.
- It’s a whodunit – check.
But it doesn’t feel like a cosy mystery – in fact by not including the third point, that really helps. Claire, who narrates the story, has a fine line in sarcastic humour that I found very entertaining, and the plot is really quite clever. It wasn’t obvious to me that there could be a motive for Mildred to have written up the town’s secrets and published them and it was only when the story is revealed that I realised that there was a motive that made sense. It’s a bit of a convoluted plan, but it still makes sense.
The relationship between Claire and Rosen is a good laugh as well and the story builds things up nicely without necessarily following the expected conventions. Ditto the relationship between Claire and her daughter.
Points off for two things –
- Claire says that bugbear phrase of mine “if this were a detective novel, then … but this is real life” at least twice. Grrrr! And
- The murderer is revealed as they are caught trying to kill someone rather than their identity being deduced. Maybe in nineteen books time, Claire will have enough experience to work it out instead – although she makes a lot of sensible deductions to be fair.
But it’s a fun read, cleverly plotted and with a very engaging narrator and I’ll certainly be looking at the series and the author again. Highly Recommended.
Oh, and it’s a great title, isn’t it?