When Farberville, Arkansas, plays host to its first-ever mystery convention--Murder Comes to Campus--local bookseller Claire Malloy finds herself in the midst of barely controlled mayhem. Bad enough that she is surrounded by peevishly capricious authors; bad enough that Roxanne Small, renowned (and feared) mystery editor, arrives unexpectedly, to the disgruntlement of said authors. But add in the news that Claire's amour, police detective Peter Rosen, has decided to do a little propagating of the species--with his ex-wife--well, all things considered, Claire would rather be in Philadelphia. Or just about anywhere without temperamental authors, irritable teenage daughters who have mastered the art of Speaking in Capital Letters, and sudden death.|
But when one of the convention attendees dies in a suspicious accident, and Roxanne Small turns up at the bottom of a cistern with a severe case of shattered skull, Claire decides that selling books to rabid fans takes second place to ferreting out the unlovely skeletons in the publishing world's closet. A Conventional Corpse finds Claire in typically acerbic form; Joan Hess is a master at presenting a decidedly cockeyed world in precise and amusing language. Claire's opinion of her glibly sarcastic daughter is typical: "Two years until I could pack her off to college, I reminded myself as I closed her door. Or perhaps I could surreptitiously sign her up for the Peace Corps and arrange an assignment to a country in which headhunting was still a popular sport. Or leave her in a basket at the door of a convent in a newly autonomized country such as Azerbaijan--sans passport."
This is the tone that has won Hess many fans, but every character, unfortunately, sounds exactly alike: detectives, authors, innkeepers, vagrants--they all speak in the same voice. The overall effect is one of limited imagination. In addition, the denouement will leave many readers perplexed, renouncing as it does the constraints of logic, motive, and probability. Claire Malloy fans, though, will more than likely be pleased enough with the return of their favorite bookseller to read in a forgiving frame of mind.
Source: Kelly Flynn, Amazon.com
Farberville, Arkansas is playing host to its first ever mystery convention. Sponsored by the Thurber Farber Foundation and held at Farber College, Murder Comes to Campus is playing host to five major mystery writers representing all areas of the field. Dragooned into running the show when the original organizer is hospitalized, local bookseller Claire Malloy finds herself in the midst of a barely controlled disaster. Not only do each of the writers present their own set of idiosyncrasies and difficulties (including one who arrives with her cat Wimple in tow), the feared, distrusted, and disliked mystery editor of Paradigm House, Roxanne Small, puts in a surprise appearance at the conference. Added to Claire's own love-life woes with local police detective Peter Rosen, things have never been worse.
Then when one of the attendees dies in a suspicious car accident, Wimple the cat disappears from Claire's home, and Roxanne Small is nowhere to be found, it becomes evident that the murder mystery is more than a literary genre.