Pros: Nice whimsical mystery
Cons: Rape does not go with whimsical
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Peter Likins’s Academic Affairs: A Poisoned Apple takes place in 1930s Alabama at a religious university. The opening is a bit rushed and confusing, but we find out that the Dean of Academic Affairs has been murdered using a poisoned apple! The Sheriff is determined to “follow the apple,” which would seem to be the obvious tack to take, but it quickly becomes clear that neither the secretary who had access to the Dean’s office (Miss Lavinia) nor the college girl who always brought the Dean his apple (his lover) had any real motive, nor was either the type to do something so drastic. Suddenly the list of suspects goes from none to many as it’s discovered that the Dean was also more than a little handsy, having assaulted and even raped young female professors. There’s also a male professor being accused of plagiarism, and there are compromising photos of the Dean chasing a naked woman locked in his desk. Just to make things even more confusing, it doesn’t take long for people to realize that the poisoned apple might not have even been the real murder weapon.
The milieu is folksy old ’30s Alabama, for good or ill (maybe a bit of both). My favorite detail is the family Sheriff’s office–father and two children. It would have been easy for the characters to be completely stereotyped, but they had some decent nuance to them as the tale progressed, which was nice. There’s also a set of women working in concert from Sally’s Salon because they know the Sheriff and his crew don’t have a clue; that’s a fun parallel plot that I would have liked to see more of. The fact that we don’t see enough of it makes some of the last-minute revelations come out of left field, when ideally in a mystery you don’t want too many reveals of the ‘we just didn’t tell you this’ variety. My least favorite detail is that an overall folksy/whimsical tone is exactly wrong for a tale that involves rape. It’s particularly tone-deaf right now, when sexual assault is such a tender and important topic.
I’d be willing to read Likins’s work again, but only if he steered clear of rape and sexual assault as topics. I don’t think he’s capable of handling them properly in today’s climate.
NOTE: Free book provided by publisher for review