Campus Mysteries

A very special locale for some mystery writers is the groves of academe where crime clashes with crusty civility. A number of famous writers have used the ivy covered complexes to set at least a story or two, including Dorothy Sayers (Gaudy Night ), Agatha Christie (Cat Among the Pigeons ), and Ellery Queen (Campus Murders ). Those, however, who set their work primarily on university or college campuses are relatively few but very skilled at it (be advised, as an academic, I am somewhat biased about these settings). In most cases the hero is an English professor although historians are next in popularity. And, as anyone with experience will tell you, the crimes on campus are very horrendous because the stakes are usually low.

In the Northeast, one of the most talented writers is Jane Langton who sets her part-time English instructor and amateur sleuth Homer Kelly and wife onto crimes in the Boston area and especially at Harvard. She also favors academic sites abroad from time to time, especially Italy. Langton has a truly great sense of place and adorns her work with excellent hand-drawn illustrations. My favorite is God in Concord. J.S. Borthwick sets a delightful series on a campus in Maine where her graduate student in the English department solves hoary murders in the New England landscape with her physician boyfriend. Joanne Dobson uses an English professor who is an expert on Emily Dickenson to solve crimes on a New England campus. Her Quieter Than Sleep is an excellent academic and regional mystery. Pamela Thomas-Graham has started an interesting series set on Ivy League campuses. So far she's done Harvard (A Darker Shade of Crimson) and Yale (Blue Blood). Marshall Jevons (a.k.a. W. Breit and K.G. Elzinga) has created a very clever economics prof at Harvard who uses the dismal science to bring justice to evildoers. And finally, Amanda Cross (a.k.a. Carolyn Heilbrun) has entertained us for years with English professor Kate Fansler tracking down bad guys primarily in the Big Apple.

Another concentration of campus - oriented mystery writers is found in the Midwest. One of the very best is M.D. Lake (a.k.a. Allen Simpson). His hero is Peggy O'Neill, a campus cop, at a fictionalized University of Minnesota, is very trouble prone but also very talented. She finds crime in all departments of the institution. Most recently she finds it in the music school (Death Calls the Tune). Lev Raphael takes some literary license and converts Michigan State University to the State University of Michigan and turns a gay professor of English-American Studies and Rhetoric (!) loose on villains. His most recent is The Death of a Constant Lover. Susan Holzer uses the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor as a setting for some very intelligent and interesting mysteries. Try The Silly Season. Edith Skom has specialized in mysteries named for well-known authors set on a Midwest campus with crimes solved by an English professor. The Charles Dickens Murders is the most recent.

Sarah Shaber using an historian as the amateur sleuth has set a new campus series on a campus in Raleigh, N.C. She has a fine sense of academia and the South.

So, "read up" and explore the criminals corridors of our finest academic institutions.


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