Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Semester of Our Discontent (A Lila Maclean Mystery)

Author:  Cynthia Kuhn
Genre:  Mystery

Hardover;  Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  871635110128; 9781635110098
Henery Press
246 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $2.99 Amazon
April 5, 2016

Five Stars

English professor Lila Maclean is thrilled about her new job at prestigious Stonedale University, until she finds one of her colleagues dead.  She soon learns that everyone, from the chancellor to the detective working the case, believes Lila - or someone she is protecting - may be responsible for the horrific event, so she assigns herself the task of identifying the killer.  More attacks on professors follow, the only connection a curious symbol at each of the crime scenes.  Putting her scholarly skills to the test, Lila gathers evidence, but her search is complicated by an unexpected nemesis, a suspicious investigator, and an ominous secret society.  Rather than earning an "A" for effort, she receives a threat featuring the mysterious emblem and must act quickly to avoid failing her assignment...and becoming the next victim.


Lila Maclean is a first-term professor at Stonedale University in Colorado, and happy to be there.  After a contentious meeting with her department chair, Roland Higgins, wherein he basically told her to keep her mouth shut and listen, while still expecting her to publish on a regular basis in order to eventually - perhaps - receive tenure.  Afterward, her cousin Calista James, who is another professor, tells her not to worry about it and continue on.  But a short time later when Lila and her assigned mentor, Judith Westerly, enter department library for a scheduled faculty meeting, they find Roland dead - with a knife embedded in his chest.

It is not too long after that the murder weapon is discovered to be the same one which was once in the possession of her cousin.  And when Calista is arrested and charged with the murder, Lila knows she's not guilty and decides to help her any way she can.  Then Judith is attacked and left unconscious in her own home while hosting a faculty party, and Lila notices the same design on both weapons:  the knife and a very heavy book that was used to hit Judith; and starts to question people, although she doesn't get anywhere, and even though she's convinced Calista knows something, no one will tell her anything.

It isn't long before, as they say, the plot thickens, and she's convinced someone is trying to either frame her or kill her, too.  With a detective that's suspicious about her involvement, Lila finds she's in a race against time to save her cousin and her own neck...

This is the first book in a new mystery series, and as such, quite nicely done.  There is enough given on academia to inform the reader as to how a university faculty ticks, as it were; but not so much that I ever felt the details dragged down the plot.  If anything, they gave me a nice insight into tenure, the pressure to publish, and 'daggers drawn' between colleagues - who might work with each other, but still have the same office rivalries as anywhere else.

I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the main character kept true to her profession as a professor; she didn't "drop everything" and decide to poke around asking one and all nosy questions and accusing everyone she met of being the killer.  No, she gleaned information and sorted it out in her mind while asking only things that were relevant at the time.  A welcome relief from the amateur sleuth who expects everyone to start gossiping around her - in this book, people would do just the opposite - clam up and not tell her anything, which only made her (in the words of young Alice) "curiouser and curiouser".  It kept me engaged throughout and I found it utterly delightful.

When the bodies keep piling up, and 'accidents' occur, Lila is left to wonder not only who's behind it, but why; and with no answers forthcoming from those around her, and a police detective who's not sure but that she's in on it herself, she needs to find answers before she becomes the next victim on the killer's hit list.

For myself, didn't like either Roland or his brother, their misogynist attitudes grating on me to the point where I wanted to slap either of them on the back of their heads; a testament to the writing ability of Ms. Kuhn; who brings us a new protagonist I hope to see more of in future books.  The ending was enough of a surprise with a twist that fit believably into the plot, and giving us a satisfying conclusion to a good mystery.  Highly recommended.

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