A college professor has an affair with her student, keeps it a secret to protect both of them, and finds that student dead on campus one evening after class. His killing has protected someone’s secret, and Lauren Rousseau is afraid that the murder investigation will uncover her own indiscretion. But, she’s not the only one with a secret, as the lives of those around her are revealed, layer by troubling layer.
Rousseau is an interestingly flawed character, with fits and starts of conscience as it applies to her love life. And, her love life is further complicated by her relationship with a man to whom she cannot commit. He wants more, she doesn’t, as evidenced by the affair. Their off and on relationship rings true as Rousseau sorts out her feelings and he can’t understand what’s wrong. He’s a good man and Rousseau is screwing it up. She almost recognizes that fact and the reader sees the changes in the independent Rousseau as she deals with her fluctuating heart.
A mentally unsteady friend mysteriously goes missing from rehab. Basically dismissed by the police, Rousseau is unwilling to leave the case alone. She hopes someone will care enough to rescue her if she ever gets into trouble and wonders if her friend’s disappearance is somehow related to the murder.
The murder and the disappearance are set against the crucial backdrop of college interdepartmental politics, with a masterful inside look at the life of a college professor – the power plays inherent in the tenure track and staying published in order to appease department heads. Having visited a few college profs’ offices over the years, I chuckled at the plot point that a missing thesis might be the key to everything. Trust me, those offices are stacked with hundreds of papers near exam time and it’s nearly impossible to find anything unless you know the professor’s filing system. Perfect!
I was struck by the rich texture of the heroine’s life, the fascinating people she meets and the intelligent way she approaches her investigations. The chats about other parts of the world, foreign language phrases sprinkled appropriately during conversations with other travelers, as well as the cooking references, make this a literate mystery, as it should be when a cultured linguistics professor is involved at the core. We discover that Rousseau is a Quaker and while it is an interesting aspect of her persona, the book is not a religious one.
Side characters play against each other satisfactorily and the family holiday dinners reminded me of cringe-worthy relatives I have known. There are some wicked bad guys, a surprise twist or two, and even arson tossed into the mix. I would never have guessed where the story would end up when I began and was extremely satisfied at the way Rousseau uncovered the awful truths that got her student killed.
I would bet that there are lots of mysteries to be solved on a college campus and many more food insights to be shared by Lauren Rousseau, in future books penned by Tace Baker.
A winning debut mystery.
Tace Baker is a pseudonym for Edith Maxwell, an author who will soon publish “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” under her own name.
For more information about Maxwell/Baker and her upcoming projects, please visit www.edithmaxwell.com