The Curriculum Murders (2004) by Marlis Day
When Patsy Sternberg, the biology teacher at James Whitcomb Riley Middle School, is found drowned in the school's pool, it is ruled an accident. Everyone just assumes that Patsy had a cramp while swimming laps alone and couldn't make it out of the water. But once Patsy's husband comes out of his shock at the unexpected death, he approaches Margo Brown about investigating--unofficially, of course. Margo has been involved in two previous suspicious deaths and has a bit of a reputation as an amateur sleuth. She goes along with Ned Sternberg out of sympathy...at first, but the deeper she and her "Watson" (and best friend) Roxie dig, the more she thinks Ned is right. She eventually realizes that Patsy died right at homecoming and a couple years previous an algebra teacher died in what was ruled a suicide at the same time of year. Is there a serial killer targeting teachers from the school? Margo and Roxie look for connections and suspects, but will they figure out who's next on the killer's list before it's too late?
This is the second mystery in this academic-related series that I have read and it is the third book in the series (despite what Goodreads says--publication dates don't lie). Of the two read, I found the first one (Death of Hoosier Schoolmaster) more appealing. That mystery was more interesting and the dialogue struck me as witty. This time around I was a bit put off by Margo's little subconscious comments to/about herself (Margo the Girl Scout...Margo the healer...Language arts teachers don't rate pass keys...etc.); just thrown in there randomly like little stream of consciousness bursts. And the investigation was pretty lackluster and haphazard and didn't really hold my interest. Even Roxie points out that they haven't really investigated much.
"Maybe we should have investigated more."
"There wasn't time," I claimed in our defense. "With the holidays and weather conditions...besides that, we actually didn't tie the two deaths together until last week."
The motive and method of killing hangs together, but it just doesn't seem like the pair have done enough spadework to lead them to the solution. There is far more written about the Brown family Christmas holiday traditions than there is about the investigation. I'm not knocking the family scenes--those are well-written, but that's not exactly what I expected the focus to be on in a mystery novel. ★★
First line: "Don't you just love that?" Roxie asked as she hung the colorful new poster over her cluttered desk.
Last line: I had some homemade chocolate chip cookies to deliver.
Deaths = two drowned