Monday, October 28, 2013

Once Upon a Crime: Review

Campus Cop, Peggy O'Neill, is back to crime-busting in M. D. Lake's Once Upon a Crime.  The fact that Peggy is represented as little more than a glorified nightwatchman hasn't kept her from landing in the middle of five murder investigations in the previous series books and being on the disabled list won't keep her out of this one.  According to Peggy, all she's supposed to do at night is walk the beat, watch out for suspicious-looking loiterers, and shepherd the inebriated undergraduates home. Detective duty is not supposed to be on her duty roster, and yet....

As mentioned, Peggy is on the disabled list--recovering from the lingering effects of her last tangle with a murderer (see Murder by Mail). In her now abundant spare time she meets Pia Austin, undergraduate Hans Christian Andersen scholar and girlfriend to Christian Donnelly--the university's star quarterback.  Her friendship will result in Peggy landing a minor role in a play adaptation of The Emperor's New Clothes and a leading role in the investigation of the murder of Pia's father.  Pia's dad is Jens Aage Lindemann, Danish scholar and the leading expert on Andersen.  Lindemann has been invited as the keynote speaker at the university's symposium on Anderson, an event meant to christen the newly built children's library and special Andersen room.

After the keynote address, Lindemann is found dead in the Andersen room--with a statue of the Little Mermaid as the weapon and a smashed display case at his side.  It looks as though Lindemann walked in a thief making off with original letters written by Andersen to a friend and paid for it with his life.  But Peggy isn't so sure.  What if Lindemann--a man who seems to have gathered more than his share of adversaries and enemies--was the target all along?  Peggy will have to wade through academic rivalries and Lindemann's past love life before the motive and the culprit become clear.

This series by M. D. Lake is a very pleasant, very cozy little take on the academic mystery.  Peggy O'Neill is a very likable character--and a very down-to-earth, believable one.  It is very nice that she is able to manipulate the case so she finally gets a guarantee from her boss that she'll be sent for detective training.  She really is wasted on that night beat.  The mystery is a pretty straight-forward one with very few bells and whistles.  There are, however, enough suspects and red herrings to keep the average reader guessing.  I spotted the vital secret--but I must say I wasn't able to spot the correct killer.

My one major quibble is having Peggy act as judge and jury at the end.  A character like Holmes or Poirot packs enough punch to carry that off....I'm just not convinced that Peggy does.  Three stars for a good solid mystery outing.

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