Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Charles Dickens Murders: Mini-Review

The Charles Dickens Murders opens with the murder of a woman in her hospital bed in New York City. We later learn that Dewey, the murdered woman, is one of the "Fourth Floor Gang" of girls who attended the University of Chicago at the same time as our heroine's (English professor and amateur sleuth, Beth Austin) mother Laurie. During her years at college, there was another violent death--never solved, as well as thefts, lies, secrets, and love triangles. When Beth talks her mother into spilling what she remembers about that previous death, she finds that she'd rather concentrate on that mysterious death than The Mystery of Edwin Drood which is the focus of her current class lectures. Her investigations culminate in a classic gathering of the suspects where she unravels the past to show the gang who was responsible for both the death 40 years ago and Dewey's more recent death.

When I picked it up at at Half Price Books,  I was sure the The Charles Dickens Murders (1998) by Edith Skom would be a winner. After all, it's an academic mystery and I love those. Usually. This one--not so much. There isn't a likable character among the Fourth Floor Gang...including Beth's mother who shows a remarkable lack of interest in the death of one her supposed closest friends from college. The mystery plot itself is fairly well done (which gives us the source of all the star-power in my ★★  rating) but the motive is rather lacking. Perhaps if I had cared more about the characters, the motive may have seemed more compelling. Overall, one of the more lack-luster academic mysteries I have read (including The George Eliot Murders by the same author). I was also unimpressed by the supposed connection between the Dickens novels Beth is reading for her class (she moves on to Bleak House mid-way through the book). 

She decided to emulate Anthony Trollope, who, having just completed a novel, but not his daily word quota, went on to begin writing his next novel. She reached for Bleak House.

She tries to cast the various people from her mother's college days as Dickens characters, but the conceit really doesn't work well--and there is no other reason to title the book as it is. 

[Finished 9/15/18]

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