My mom reads a lot of mysteries. I don’t, but I do pick up and bring home all of her books so I have some familiarity with the genre. Along the way I also have become interesting in a few series. When Mom finished Murder 101—Maggie Barbieri‘s debut mystery novel released in 2006–and recommended it to me, after laughing through most of it, I decided to give the book a try.
Alison Bergeron is an English professor at St. Thomas College, a small Catholic school located just outside New York City limits. Unfortunately, that does little to keep Alison’s car from being stolen. Matters only worsen when two homicide detectives with the NYPD inform Alison that her car has been found with a dead body inside–a body that belongs to one of the students in her Shakespeare class.
Being car-less and newly divorced isn’t bad enough, now she finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. Possibly as the prime suspect. Alison has no choice but to try and clear her name, even if the attractive Detective Crawford would prefer she stick to the classroom–for both their sakes.
Murder 101 was really enjoyable. With Alison’s first person narration, Barbieri has created an authentic and hilarious protagonist. The novel blends the madcap, action, quotidian, and even some romance to create a great story. The chemistry between Alison and Detective Bobby Crawford actually verges on the tangible it is so well written.
Her characters are also loads of fun, each being fully realized and adding their own charm to the story. Alison’s best friend, Max, provides an amusing counterpoint to Alison’s more grounded and logical personality. My personal favorite character might have been Detective Wyatt who, though he did not get the most “air time” did have some of the best lines.
Praise aside, it was not until a hundred pages into the story that I actually made a commitment to stick with the series in its later installments. Murder 101 is one of those novels that gets better, along with the plot gaining momentum as it moves along. Barbieri’s narration and dialogue are witty and snappy to keep readers’ attention and to keep them laughing.
This is also the first mystery I’ve encountered with a college professor as the main character. As someone who briefly considered a career in academia, I was intrigued to see behind the scenes of a college professor’s life. While the murder investigation is, of course, a big part of this book is Alison’s life both at school and in terms of her budding relationship with Crawford. All in all, a really fun read.
Alison’s adventures (with and without Crawford) continue in Extracurricular Activities (2007).