Friday, August 3, 2018

Carol H. Shmurak, Death By Committee

Carol H. Shmurak, Death By Committee
Copyright 2006, 2011 Carole Shmurak
E-book ISBN 978-1-4392-8235-9

I read a lot of academic mysteries, and I tend to be very sensitive to the difficulties involved in creating an academic setting that rings true to academics (that is, to me) and that is not so immersed in the academic part of the story that the mystery suffers.  It gives me great pleasure to be able say that this book meets and beats this challenge. 

The primary hook is this:  Abby Gillette, an assistant professor in the education program at (the fictional) Metropolitan University has prepared her file supporting her application for tenure (which, if granted, generally entails a promotion in rank to associate professor; faculty with tenure become more difficult, but not impossible to fire).  Gillette has some very strong supporters, among both the faculty and students.  And she has serious detractors as well.  And both camps are vocal about their positions.  Susan Lombardi, who has herself recently been granted tenure, is asked by her department chair (Nanette Lehman) to serve on the faculty committee that will consider Gillette’s case, and make a recommendation to Lehmann, which will be forwarded, along with Lehmann’s own recommendation, up the administrative chain.

In the course of the committee’s deliberations, a number of things happen:
Gillette’s dossier is lost, but found again.
The department chair’s (Lehmann) office is set on fire, and she is hospitalized.
And, of greater import both for the mystery and for the committee’s deliberations, a member of the committee is murdered.

I will have to say that in 32 years of observing a lot of tenure cases, I’ve seen a lot of things, but no one ever got murdered.  But this is a murder mystery, so that’s OK.  I will also have to say that Shmurak’s depiction of the faculty and of university life in general is just excellent.  I have known people who resemble each of the characters here, and, having gone through the tenure process twice (one loss, one win, and having served on tenure committees both at the initial (program) level and at the campus level in that order), I think she did an absolutely spot-on job of depicting the way those things work.  (I had a couple of issues, but they are really too minor to mention.)

Lombardi narrates the story, and is as close as we get to the amateur sleuth.  I found Lombardi to be an engaging character, and, again, I could name people on whom she could be modeled. 

If I have a bone to pick (and I do), it’s that the ending of the book seemed almost rushed.  I expected more of a denouement than I got, and I was surprised, when I did the thing you do to turn the page in an ebook, surprised to discover that the story had ended.  I actually can’t quite express the basis for my feeling that the ending was incomplete, and, of course, I might be the only reader who has felt that way.  I will say this:  If academic mysteries are among the types of book you like, I feel certain that you will enjoy this one a lot.

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