Quieter Than Sleep: A Modern Mystery of Emily Dickinson by Joanne Dobson. Doubleday 1997.
I recently came across Death without Tenure, the 6th in the Karen Pelletier series by Joanne Dobson. I had forgotten about this series, which I heard about years ago but never got around to reading, and I decided to backtrack to the first book in the series, which was published in 1997.
Karen Pelletier gave up a stable relationship with a cop in New York City to accept a position at Enfield College, a job she has long aspired to. She soon finds that the small campus is not as tranquil and peaceful as it appears, and when the body of a fellow professor literally falls into her arms, she becomes a suspect in a murder investigation. Personally, if I knew a murderer was on the loose, I would be keeping a low profile! But spunky Karen announces: “I want to try to find out who killed Randy. If his murderer isn’t found, I have a feeling I’m going to be under suspicion forever.” Not only does Karen begin investigating, but she is soon recruited by Lieutenant Piotrowski to pursue aspects of the case associated with academic studies.
Pelletier is a likeable character, and the academic infighting was fun. There is a small mystery around the discovery of old papers relating to Emily Dickinson as well. Karen has plenty of potential love interests, from her ex, still in the picture, to Piotrowski to the campus president. Quieter than Sleep was a fun, quick read, but not engrossing. It was a first novel, though, and I might give another book in the series a try some day when I’m looking for something light.
A Small Death in the Great Glen by A.D. Scott. Thorndike Press 2010.
A Small Death begins with a murder. The opening line is “He dressed the boy’s body whilst it was still warm.” Yet in spite of that, this book is quite unlike most murder mysteries as it follows the lives of multiple characters in their small highland village in 1950s Scotland. Indeed, the book reminded me of a Maeve Binchy novel. (You’ll find my review of Minding Frankie here).
At the center of the story is Joanne Ross, a young mother of two who works part-time as a typist for the local weekly newspaper. Others in the office include John McAllister, the experienced newsman from the big city of Glasgow, Don McLeod, the savvy subeditor and Rob, the enthusiastic cub reporter. You get to know the ins and outs of each of their lives. A large supporting cast includes grandparents and Travellers (the gypsy-like nomads of north Scotland), Italian chip shop owners and Polish immigrants. In the post-war world, villagers are still suspicious of all newcomers, and a Polish sailor who has jumped ship is blamed by many, including the close-minded investigating officer, for the murders.
I happened to be reading the Large Type edition, which is nearly 600 pages long. It’s a meaty read. Although the storytelling is straightforward, Scott includes interesting details about Scottish life and the 1950s prejudices and views ring true. I especially enjoyed little turns of phrase and other touches that reminded me of my Scottish grandparents. One character comments that he’s so hungry “My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut”, an expression that my grandfather used but that I haven’t heard in many years.
In the end, the mystery is neatly resolved, with a surprising twist. The second book in this series is Double Death on the Black Isle. I plan on looking it up.