Tiltton University is not the quiet place of learning all the staff and students could hope for when the construction workers move in to build a new performing arts centre. And then work stops because there is something buried in the site that ruined everyone’s day.
Kramer walked slowly in the direction Stephens had indicated. Then he stopped short. His face drained of colour and he gulped twice. He could see it clearly — a bone sticking up out of the dirt he’d been preparing to move.
Tilton police detectives Donna Crandall and her partner Ron Zuniga are called to the scene and it isn’t long before the bones are sent off to be dated. The result is that the skeleton is that of a young man, and he died some forty years ago but he didn’t bury himself so it must be murder but how on earth do you go about investigating a crime that old?
Never fear because the detectives have Joel Williams, The Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tilton University, a former detective now academic, is only too willing to use his skills to assist. Before long the Police and the campus sleuth have a name; Bryan Roades a twenty year old who went missing in the 70s. Could his determination to emulate his heroes in the investigative journalism world on the campus newspaper have led to someone wanting him out of the way?
This is my first Joel Williams story although this is actually Margot Kinberg’s third book in the series featuring the academic detective and I’m pleased to report Past Tense reads perfectly as a stand-alone novel. The crime aspect was one of my favourite tropes; I love it when those who commit a crime think they are home and dry only for them to be caught years after the fact. This is particularly true in this novel as the article Brian Roades was working on was about women’s lib and of course attitudes have changed dramatically in the past forty years, so I suspect if anything the uncovering of the truth had far more impact than it may have done if he’d been allowed to write his story back then, but that of course is mere speculation on my part!
Margot Kinberg structures the novel well always keeping the mystery in clear line of sight and thankfully her investigative professor is a normal man, without angst and is somewhat self-effacing which gives the book a less aggressive feel than some modern crime novels, not that life as part of the campus staff is without its petty rivalries, this is no cosy mystery! I always imagine life in academia to be somewhat rarefied, however with this book written by someone living that life, I’ve been totally disabused of that opinion but it is an illusion shattered by some great characters and some fabulous dialogue that helped establish the setting, and opinions, for the modern angle of the crime and its discovery as well as giving enough references to take us back twenty years to the heart of the crime.
I have been a long-time reader, and admirer of Margot’s blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… and I have to admit to being slightly apprehensive about read this book – what if I didn’t like it? But not to fear, I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, the plotting and the writing style, a book without gratuitous violence but not so sanitised that it felt too sugary for this crime loving reader. I will definitely be keeping up with Joel in the future and I’m looking forward to my next visit to Tilton University.
Past Tense was my seventeenth read in the Mount TBR challenge and I’m pleased to announce is my last review of the backlog dating from June!