Author: Maggie Barbieri
Alison Bergeron certainly has enough on her plate already, a divorced English professor working at a stoic catholic college where she must associate with her philandering ex who also teaches classes, she is now bereft of her car and means to get to class. It’s certainly a bad week and her bodacious, loud friend Max with her red bottomed shoes and devil-may-care attitude certainly isn’t the comfort that she needs during a hard semester after a finalized divorce. When her car is discovered, complete with the body of Kathy Miceli, one of her former students, Alison and her ex-husband are the key suspects of detective Bobby Crawford who begins some reconnaissance and begins to fall for the hapless Alison as the story unravels. Serious in the repercussions of murder and a failed marriage, Murder 101 ramps up the tension but also induces humor and cozy feelings of budding romance and friendship under stressful conditions, giving readers a heroine to root for that feels entirely human and, instead of following the amateur sleuth streak, comes across as an unfortunate individual trapped in the middle of a dangerous intrigue.
Murder 101 perfectly combines the tension of a thriller, the emotional involvement of a drama, and the quaint atmosphere of a cozy mystery, capturing me early on with Alison’s believable reactions to seeing her first murder victim (aka, vomiting on the handsome detective’s shoes and then fainting), to her perceptions of weakness at the university (divorce being frowned on by the Mother Superior running the school), her quandary over a semi-non-dependable friend, and her fear not only of being somehow captured by the killer herself but also of trusting someone again, of opening her heart after all the cheating and lies of a marriage truly from hell. Alison, with all of these complexities, emotions, external, and internal dramas captures readers as a real heroine, and the fact that she doesn’t really sleuth, yet is still deeply involved with the mystery, makes this particular cozy seem more relatable and real without losing any of that atmosphere readers expect. Likewise, the added threat of Kathy’s mob background heightens the danger and adds a new level onto the mystery.
The budding and complicated love story between Alison and Crawford allows for an outlet of tension and yet increases the stakes, keeping readers both involved in the homicide and attached to the characters’ lives on an individual level. When Alison becomes in danger herself, kidnapped and threatened, the thriller aspect heightens as the meaning of Crawford’s attachment deepens. The potential of Alison to trust again is suddenly thwarted at the end, even after the mystery is finished, leaving the novel open ended and, hopefully, beginning a series. Readers will want to continue reading Alison’s story.
The solution to the mystery itself is a little strange in that the killer gives a sudden confession. While the scene is dramatic and there is plenty of real risk and some gore involved, the mystery itself seems almost too easily solved. Why would the killer, given this particular situation, fess up over a simple error that could have easily gone undetected by Alison and her detective companion. Nevertheless, it does tie up a lot of loose ends and leave readers satisfied if not a little surprised by the suddenness of confession.
Murder 101, with its cute cover of a high heeled Alison spilling coffee, delivers more than most cozies plot wise without ever losing the endearing atmosphere readers seek. Highly recommended!
- Frances Carden