Lesson Plan for Murder by Lori Robbins

What’s not to love when an English teacher like me reads a mystery where the chapters are titled Things Fall Apart or Heart of Darkness and the protagonist is a high school English teacher? First, I loved the clever, intelligent voice of the main character, Liz Hopewell, whose comments about the high school and the faculty are funny and self-deprecating. I literally laughed out loud. When Marcia Deaver, English AP teacher is found dead in her classroom, the first thing Liz thinks is that no self-respecting English teacher would commit suicide without a perfectly written note complete with footnotes and literary allusions. Liz is hired to take Marcia’s place and soon is intrigued by Deaver’s lesson plans, complete with coded clues. Despite the pleas of her husband and the hunky detective, Liz begins doing her own investigation. We know, of course, where that will lead because no self-respecting mystery would leave out a scene where the main character is threatened with her own murder. I loved the faculty drama and the perfect descriptions of former teachers you have known.  5/5 stars

A Study in Crimson by Robert J. Harris

It is 1942 during the Blitz in London, and Harris has moved his mystery about a copycat Jack the Ripper to this period to pay homage to the old black-and-white movies about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, played by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce and set in the 1940s. This time someone is killing women and copying the work of the 1888 Jack the Ripper. There is much to like, including the nostalgia of Londoners facing the Blitz and Dr. Watson reminiscing about his now deceased wife. Even Mycroft Holmes has a cameo. For me, however, there is too little suspense to keep me interested. The clever deductive reasoning of Holmes, which we so admire, is hardly evident, and the killer is predictable. The background and context was interesting, the plot not so much.  3/5 stars



A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh

Set between the two world wars, A Man Lay Dead  by Ngaio Marsh is the kind of country house mystery prevalent at that time.

I thoroughly enjoyed it because Marsh took me back to an earlier time when mysteries rolled out their puzzles in a slower, more cerebral way. Nash was one of the Four Queens of Mystery in the English Empire in the 1920s and 1930s.

Everyone knows Sir Hubert Handesley throws the most wonderful parties at his country house. He invites a group of people for the weekend and announces they will play The Murder Game. One person is a pretend killer, one a pretend victim, and the others are sleuths who must figure it out. Added to the mix is a subplot of two Russian characters. Sure enough, a real murder takes place when one of the guests is stabbed with an intricate Russian dagger. But no need to worry. Inspector Roderick Alleyn is one of the guests. He fits in perfectly with his expensive classical education, posh accent, and soft-spoken voice. The question is, can the reader solve the murder before the murderer is revealed? Fortunately, I did. I’m still planning to read another of the 33 mysteries Marsh wrote between 1934 and 1982. 5/5 stars

Rose’s Thorn by Lynn Steven Johanson

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery, not because I live in the smalltown Midwest, but because the plot and characters really engaged me. The author grew up in Iowa, so his descriptions of the Iowa town Joe Erickson returns to to settle his father’s estate are true to life. Erickson is also in need of some time off because a serious murder case in his current town of Chicago left him shattered. His mind needs peace. He digs deep into the restful childhood memories of his home, jogging in the morning and dealing with his father’s will in the afternoons.

But then, two women are abducted, murdered, and their bodies left along a river. It becomes even more personal when a neighbor girl, whom he’s met, disappears. A criminal profiler from Erickson’s past is brought in, and she pulls him into the case. The twists and turns are amazing, and I found myself constantly trying to figure out what these women had in common. The author finishes the plot beautifully, bringing the threads together for a satisfying ending. I’d highly recommend Rose’s Thorn. 4/5 stars


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