You 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 Pigs, Postern 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, Cinema; Clothes in Books; Good Reads; Mysteries in Paradise; Reactions to Reading;
The Joel Williams series
- Publish of Perish (2008)
- B-Very Flat (2010)
- Past Tense (2016)
To read more about Margot and her books, visit her blog: https://margotkinberg.wordpress.com