Thursday, April 4, 2019

A Knife in the Back

One way to know that you are reading a cozy mystery is to use a handy-dandy checklist. If you can tick off a high percentage of the the boxes, you most likely have a cozy mystery in your hands. Here's a sample that applies to A Knife in the Back (2002) by Bill Crider:

Cozy Mystery Checklist
Plucky heroine/hero (hereafter known as PH) who is not a professional sleuth [✔]
Either an unsympathetic/antagonistic police officer (often not the sharpest knife in the drawer) who resents interference &/or thinks the PH did it OR a friendly/indulgent police officer who allows PH to investigate to their heart's content (who may or may not be the PH's significant other) [✔]
PH or PH's friend/loved one is initially thought to be the killer and PH must investigate to save the day [✔]
PH has frolicsome feline or cuddly canine [✔]
PH is involved in some sort of hobby/profession that mysteriously attracts dead bodies like they're going out of style (knitting/baking/stamp collecting/antique dealer/bookstore owner/etc) [  ]
PH has close-knit group of friends who help (to greater or lesser extent) the investigation [  ]
Takes place in a small town/village [✔]
Generally speaking little or no graphic violence (murders usually happen "off-stage") [✔] (although there is a bit more rough and tumble at one point in this book than usual)

So, yeah...we've got us a cozy mystery on our hands. And a fairly low-key one at that. Not that there aren't murders. There are. And not that there isn't some violence--see comment above. But our heroine, Dr. Sally Good definitely has a method of investigation. 

Dr. Good is the Chair of the English Department at Hughes Community College. Up till now she's been a bit standoffish both professionally and romantically speaking--due to still being in recovery from losing her beloved husband. But. She has finally taken the plunge and agreed to a date with fellow professor Jack Neville. She's still wondering if going out with a colleague will be a good idea when word reaches her that a much despised college trustee, Ralph Bostic, has been murdered. And Jack is the prime suspect. But only because his hand-made knife was found plunged in Bostic's back. When Detective Weems seems pretty certain that the evidence points Jack's way, Sally naturally decides to jump into the investigation and prove that her would-be date is no killer. And how are we going to do that? By talking to all the campus gossips to find out who the other possible suspects are and then confronting each one until one of them decides to murderously confront Jack (with an eye to having him "kill himself" in remorse for his evil deeds). That's how we prove who the killer is.

This is a pretty middle-of-the-road academic mystery. It's not too taxing (no intricate puzzle plot to figure out) and is mildly entertaining for a quick read. I can't say that the plot was strewn with clues, so if you figure out whodunit it won't be because your detective's eye spotted all the pointers. But it was a decent story--especially when you consider how rare it is for a male author to write a female protagonist...and to do so in a convincing manner (see one of my early 2019 reviews, The Winter Women Murders for an example of how NOT to do it). ★★

All Challenges Fulfilled: Craving for Cozies, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup, PopSugar, Monthly Motif, Cloak & Dagger, Challenge Throwback, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Mystery Reporter, Medical Examiner

Calendar of Crime: July = author's birth month
Medical Examiner: 2 deaths = one stabbed; one hit on the head

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