Laura Murphy, psychology professor, thinks there’s nothing she likes better than coffee and donuts on a summer morning until she says yes to dinner with a Canadian biker and finds herself and her date suspects in the murder of her college’s president. Laura’s friend, the detective assigned the case, asks her to help him find out who on the small upstate New York college campus may be a killer. The murder appears to be wrapped up in some unsavory happenings on the lake where Laura lives. A fish kill and raw sewage seeping into the water along with the apparent drowning suicide of a faculty member complicate the hunt for the killer. And then things become personal. The killer makes a threatening phone call to Laura. With a tornado bearing down on the area and the killer intent upon silencing her, Laura’s sleuthing work may come too late to save her and her biker from a watery grave.
I have noticed a trend in the books I have been reading. Many cozy mysteries feature a main character who is a woman 'of a certain age'. The closer I get to that 'certain age', the more I appreciate this trend.
And that is just the first item of several that makes me appreciate Diehl's "Murder is Academic".
Like any other business, there is a lot of jockeying for position in the halls of colleges and universities. Witness Stanford's response to Laura's opinion at Upstate College's Biological Field Stations: "You can't be equating the fuzzy procedures and approaches of psychology with the precision required in a real science like biology, can you, Dr. Murphy?" (emphasis added) I am so over that childish "My dog's better than your dog" type of competition. Here it adds a wonderful suspense to "Murder is Academic".
Concern for the welfare of the local ecosystem and inhabitants is shown in the book by exposition and dialog, rather than by taking the book, thumping us on the head with it and the hope that environmental appreciation will somehow be transferred by osmosis. Diehl's presentation of the cause in this manner assumes intelligence (native or acquired) and sensitivity on the part of her readers. I am much more likely to return to an author who does not insult my intelligence simply because my experiences are different from hers (or his).
The third thing I liked about "Murder is Academic" is the handling of the physical intimacy between Laura and Guy, the Canadian motorcycle-riding high-school teacher. I love how they met...shortly after Laura and Annie's discovery of the body of the college president at a construction site. I was a little surprised at the near-immediate onset of that level of intimacy, simply because they had suspected each other of being involved in the murder. The author lets us know what is going on skillfully, without resorting to blatant images and crass colloquialisms. The couple's intimacy adds to the story, as opposed to taking it over. Very well done.
I could go on, but you have some reading to do. First, my author interview with Lesley Diehl is below. After that, the book "Murder is Academic" itself. If I made up a list of all the things I love about cozy mysteries, "Academic" would include many of those elements and even add a few new things to the list.
A version of it was the first mystery I tried writing. I shelved it for over five years, then pulled it out and began revising. It has been cut from over 100,000 words to just over 75,000. Murder is Academic displays the same humor as in most of my work, but it is a bit different because my protagonist is more impulsive than my other protagonists. Laura Murphy is sexually bold, so much so that she takes a chance on a man she’s just met, one who might be the killer of her college’s president. So this cozy mystery is really best described as a “spicy cozy mystery.”
4. Where do you write?
Until this year I wrote at my desk in the corner of the living room in our house in Florida or, when in upstate New York, at my desk in my office looking out into the branches of a lilac bush but now I find myself taking my computer out to the deck overlooking the trout stream or sometimes I just choose a comfy chair and write there.
5. What's next for Laura?
Laura finds she is again gaining weight and finding life a bit boring. She discovers the body of one of her students in a mall parking lot and sets out to find out who is responsible for this wonderful young woman’s death. A note on the body seems to be a poke at Laura’s research, but why?
This time Laura takes on a bad boy fraternity to track down the killer.
I’m taking a breather this summer because my writing schedule has been so intense for the last year. I will be writing two short stories in the next few months, but my focus will be on promoting this book as well as my recent Eve Appel mystery series published by Camel Press (A Secondhand Murder and Dead in the Water with a release date of July 15).
After refueling my idea tank, I may turn into a noir direction with humor in my mysteries becoming darker. Never fear, I still have on my schedule to complete books in my existing mystery series as well as the second one for Laura Murphy.
I cook, garden, exercise, hike, and spend time with my husband working on our 1874 cottage.
8. Tell us three things that are on your bucket list?
To visit Cornwall, go on a river cruise in Europe and continue writing, writing, writing.
9. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Still writing. I hope I’ve gotten the third book in all my series out and have begun other mysteries.
10. Tell us something about your cats? Your resident ghost?
My two cats, Squeak and Marley, are both rescue cats from Key Largo, Fl. We used to spend our winters down there, and we were part of a spay and neuter rescue group for feral cats. We got Squeak first, then about four years later we got Marley. Squeak is our girl, a green-eyed, grey striped cat with a lot of attitude for such a little thing. Marley is the boy of the house, “himself” and considered to be a real pain by his older sister. As you might guess, they kind of run the place. Since Squeak is picky about motel rooms when we go back-and-forth between New York and Florida, we always try for a Hilton. Otherwise she yells at us all night. Marley doesn’t really care where we stop as long as there’s food for him and he can do what we call “wacko-bananas” all night (runs around the room like a crazy man).
Like me, my protagonists choose to live their lives close to nature.
From the deep, green river valleys and tree-covered mountains of upstate New York to the palm-treed pastures of the Big Lake Country in Florida, these women have found their homes and their hearts in rural America.
These plucky snoops are joined by a transplant from Connecticut, Eve Appel, who moves to rural Florida to set up a consignment shop with her best friend and partner, Madeleine Boudreau.
All these amateur sleuths yearn for the simple, artless existence of hard work coupled with rustic pleasure.
That’s why they live away from big cities, but murder and violence have a way of stalking us, even our plucky heroines, who think they’ve avoided life’s perils.
(Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of "Murder is Academic" from the author and publisher through Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was offered, requested or received.)