PAST TENSE by Margot Kinberg

kinberg_past-tenseYou all know Margot Kinberg, the indefatigable mystery author and academic who blogs over at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist and who cheerleads for the detective genre here, there and everywhere. Past Tense is the third in her series of mysteries featuring Joel Williams, an ex-cop who now is an academic at (the fictional) Tilton University, somewhere in Pennsylvania. It’s exam time but there is more excitement than normal when remains of a man who died some 40 years earlier are found on campus. Was it murder?

Don’t forget to check out Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Pattinase blog

“It’s just striking me that all of this has to do with what happened in the 70s.”

The skeleton belonged to Bryan, a student who, inspired by the success of Watergate journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, wanted to blow the lid off secrets on campus. He created several enemies including his gay partner, who he planned to out, and several students who had relations with a tenured professor. And then one day in 1974 Bryan went missing. Williams’ interest in the case increases when he discovers a body in a dumpster – that of a woman who knew Bryan and had been interviewed for his proposed exposé. Are the two deaths linked?

“I loved you!” she said in such an accusing voice.

Though set in the present day, with several flashbacks to the 1970s, this is very much a cozy mystery – there is no blood, no violence, no swearing, everyone is very polite and well-behaved, there is even a nice friendly dog named Oscar – and a complete absence of menace and jeopardy. As well all know, Margot is phenomenally well-read when it comes to detective fiction and I suspect her inspiration may have been the ‘murder in the past’ novels by Agatha Christie, such as Five Little PigsPostern of Fate and Elephants Can Remember. In keeping with the Christie style, we have a limited pool of suspects, more intuition than physical clues and most of the fun comes in seeing Williams and the official police detectives ferret around in the past to arrive at the truth.

I got the paper-edition of this book, which was really helpful as I do not have an e-book device. The text was clearly formatted primarily for electronic devices, so can read a little oddly with not many words per page, some very strange line and paragraph breaks as well as a few typos (Bryan becomes ‘Brian’ a couple of times) and some missed words here and there too. But this is minor stuff. I read this book almost in a single sitting to reach a denouement that is probably not meant to come as a great surprise. Instead, pleasingly, the emphasis is on the revealing of a hidden past and the consequent way that this can belatedly begin the healing process for those in the present, a philosophy I very much approve of.

Past Tense has been reviewed widely on the web, and you should check what has been said over at: Bitter Tea and Mystery; Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, CinemaClothes in Books; Good ReadsMysteries in ParadiseReactions to Reading;

The Joel Williams series

  1. Publish of Perish (2008)
  2. B-Very Flat (2010)
  3. Past Tense (2016)

To read more about Margot and her books, visit her blog: https://margotkinberg.wordpress.com

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16 Responses to PAST TENSE by Margot Kinberg

  1. Thanks very much, Sergio, for the kind words. I’m so glad you found things to like about the book, and it means a lot to me that you took the time to read and comment on it.

  2. tracybham says:

    Great review, Sergio. I did like the mingling of the past and present and I have grown very fond of Joel Williams. I am hoping for more from Margot. Thanks for including a link to my review.

  3. Colin says:

    I’ll have to shamefully own up to the fact that, despite being aware of and reading her online contributions here and on her own site, I’ve not read any of the books penned by Margot. Yet.
    This sounds interesting, an academic setting usually helps of course, not least for the Christie-like structure of the past impinging on the present.

  4. Sergio, I liked the way Joel Williams, in spite of being the protagonist, takes a backseat in the case and goes about sniffing for clues and solving it in his own quiet way. I thought it was unusual for a former cop turned academic and part-time PI. Thanks for the link to my review.

  5. Like Tracy, I enjoy mysteries that blend Past and Present (and Future!). After reading your fine review, I’ll be tracking down a copy of PAST TENSE today!

  6. Mathew Paust says:

    I also enjoy mysteries that delve into the past, and this one sounds like a doozy. (I’m glad it’s on Kindle, too)

  7. neeru says:

    Oh this intermingling of past and present seems interesting. I’ll see if I can get a copy of any of Margot’s books. Thanks for highlighting it, Sergio.

  8. I have been meaning to get my hands on one of Margot’s books, this one sounds very intriguing. I like when old mysteries come back to haunt the present.

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