Publisher: Bella Books
0n a hot summer day at Bellweather High School in Sydney, Australia, teacher Bill Pagett lies murdered, the hole in his head accomplished with neat efficiency by a Black & Decker drill.
Detective Inspector Carol Ashton investigates, bringing with her a formidable reputation for competence. She soon uncovers tangled relationships and motives for murder among the six teaching staff, along with a maze of malicious anonymous letters and threatening phone calls. And then there is yet another corpse.
Carol’s investigation is further complicated by the flashfire attraction between herself and prime suspect Sybil Quade. Carol fights her desire, knowing its potential to compromise her investigation. Nor does Sybil welcome an “unnatural” obsession with the alluring woman who is inexorably gathering the evidence to convict her of multiple murder.
[Originally posted on Amazon 3/14/12]
Lessons in Murder is not a perfect book by any means, but it’s still one that I really like. I just finished re-reading it.
The writing is a little awkward in places with some odd word choices, indicative of McNab being a relatively new author at the time this was written. (I don’t mean differences between Australian and American English, which are also present, since I enjoy that aspect.) McNab chose to use third person omniscient POV for the narration and I’m not convinced it worked well for this type of book. Though it does have the advantage of providing multiple points of view throughout the novel.
The romance element is fairly strong, on an almost equal footing with the mystery in terms of importance. I like the romance sub-plot a great deal, and yet it’s lacking in the emotional immediacy and intimacy that one would expect if this had been a romance novel instead of a mystery. I think some of that is also due to the omniscient POV choice.
Lessons in Murder introduces an intriguing and strong protagonist. Detective Inspector Carol Ashton is smart, calm, cool, collected, beautiful, and highly successful at her job. Yet this book only scratches the surface of who she really is, probably because there wasn’t much room for extensive character development in such a short book which is so tightly focused.
What McNab does very well in this book is craft a classic murder mystery. There are several suspects, a lot of people keeping secrets, and a lot of possible motives, some obvious and some hidden. Ashton, and her partner Bourke, painstakingly interview numerous people and put together the evidence from a trail of clues. McNab does a good job of keeping the reader guessing and re-guessing well into the book, and does so in a way that doesn’t insult the reader by using gimmicky red herrings or cheap deus ex machina tricks.
It’s probably worth noting that Lessons in Murder was originally published in 1988 and that context is important in terms of some of the attitudes of the characters and where mystery fiction was at that time, compared to now.
I recommend Lessons in Murder as a solid, quick mystery read.