Friday, October 21, 2016

Leigh Perry, A Skeleton in the Family

Leigh Perry, A Skeleton In The Family
Berkley/Penguin, © 2013
ebook ISBN 978-01-101-62507-1

The first in a series featuring English instructor Georgia Thackery and the family skeleton Sid.  I generally am not aa big fan of books with a lot of paranormal in them, but I do like a good academic mystery, so I decided to take a shot at this one.  And I’m glad I did.  Georgia has landed a last-minute (well, technically, after-the-last-minute) part-time teaching gig at a small New England school (McQuaid University, where her parents, both tenured professors there, work; they are on sabbatical for the year, so Georgia has a rent-free place to live).  She and her daughter Madison move in (and Georgia has to work at keeping from learning of the existence of Sid, who mostly lives in the attic and is not yet ready to make Madison’s acquaintance).

Fairly soon after Georgia is beginning to get settled, Madison discovers that a manga convention (Mangachussetts) is happening on McQuaid’s campus, and she really wants to go.  Georgia agrees; the problem is Sid also really wants to go as well…how to get a skeleton into the convention?  Well, disguise him as a manga character that is a skeleton!.  So that works out.  But at the con, Sid sees someone he recognizes, maybe from when he was alive, and this troubles him greatly.  As a result, Georgia and Sid begin to track down his past.

But then they discover the body of the woman Sid recognized—a retired professor of zooarchaeology at a nearby college, Joshua Tay University, Dr. Jocasta Kirkland.  They decide to visit her to see if they can learn anything about Sid’s past…and discover her dead body.  Oops.  So now, in addition to trying to uncover Sid’s past, they are trying to catch a murderer.

The hunt winds up involving a couple of other adjunct faculty at McQuaid and Georgia’s sister Deborah (who is a local locksmith).  The whole thing is rather far-fetched, but enjoyable, and the solution is well-thought out and nicely woven into the rest of the story.

I had two minor quibbles, both of which involved the academic side of things.  But neither is all that important, and, unless you are an academic, neither will cause you even a moment’s concern.  (I’m going to mention them now.  I don’t think either one is a spoiler, but you might want to skip the next paragraph.)

The first thing is that Georgia is teaching five sections of English composition at McQuaid.  I know of no institution that assigns that sort of a course load to a single adjunct.  Everywhere I have ever been and everywhere about which I have knowledge limits adjuncts to no more than 3 (and usually no more than 2) courses per semester.  Heavier loads, again, everywhere that I know of, trigger full-time status and its attendant benefits.  I’m not saying that the course load is something that never happens, just that I know of nowhere at which that could occur.  The second thing is that somewhere, mostly in passing, someone says that Kirkland had been forced to retire because she hit the JTU’s mandatory retirement age.  Ah, no.  An amendment to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, eliminated mandatory retirement rules (except for a few occupations, of which college professor is not one).  (As a result, any universities are trying to figure out how to get people to retire, because they can’t be forced to go.)  Again, minor and frankly irrelevant to the story, but annoying to me.

But this is a good start for the series.  I’m looking forward to #s 2 & 3, which Ialready have.  Read it and enjoy.


  1. Don,

    Thanks so much for the review. About your two quibbles... I did a fair amount of research about how many classes an adjunct would teach, and was told they often do teach as many as five classes at the same school. (Other times they split the classes between different schools.) But I'll check my old notes and see if I got that wrong.

    As for retirement age, I blame outdated personal information I never checked. My husband's mentor as he was getting his undergraduate degree and master's was nudged out out Harvard because of his age. I think technically he could have stayed there, but he wouldn't have been able to sign time cards for students, which makes research almost impossible. (He moved to Boston University, and my husband followed him, so it all worked out for us.) Anyway, that would have been in 1986 or so, and I didn't realize the rules had changed. Dang it, it's always the things you think you know that catch you up. If I ever get a chance, I'll try to tweak that or add an apologetic note.


  2. As I said, only an academic would notice, I think. And my knowledge of adjunct loads is fairly institution-specific (my institution caps them at 2 courses per term--which could mean 6 courses per academic year--2 fall, 2 spring, 1 in each of 2 summer terms). So I could be wrong there myself.

    Btw, I finished The Skeleton Takes a Bow a couple of days ago and thought it was even better that the first. I'll get around to writing something about it once I finish writing the test I'm giving next Tuesday.

  3. Sid is a favorite of my and my daughter's and we're looking forward to his continuing adventures.