Extracurricular Activities (2007) is Maggie Barbieri‘s second mystery novel featuring English professor Alison Bergeron. It is the sequel to Barbieri’s debut novel Murder 101.
A few months have passed since Alison was cleared of the murder that ocurred at the small, secluded college where she works. It has been about as long since Alison last saw her married (sort of) boyfriend Detective Bobby Crawford. Everything about Alison’s life seems to be back to normal–leaving her plenty of time to focus on her work and best friend Max’s upcoming nuptials.
That is until Alison finds herself at the center of another murder investigation when her ex-husband’s body is found in Alison’s house. The more Alison learns about the case, the more convinced she is that a local Mobster is responsible, specifically the one that has been harassing Alison since last spring. Alison wants nothing more than to solve the murder for her own sanity and be done with the Mob once and for all, but how do you threaten a Mob boss with no qualms about killing the people who get in his way?
Chronologically this book picks up very close to where the first book left off, making it easy to deal with the loose ends and unresolved issues that carried over from Murder 101. While Alison struggles with her decision that she and Crawford should take a break, she finds herself receiving attentions from another very attractive, and available, man. This creates a moral dilemma as Alison tries to figure out where her heart lies and whether the best route is also the easiest one. This side plot of sorts adds more dimension to Alison’s character and her dynamic with Crawford as well as bringing a lot of humor into the story.
Something that Barbieri has changed in this installment is her narration technique. In the first novel, Alison narrated in traditional first-person, past-tense style. That narration works for the story allowing readers to get inside Alison’s head and hear all of her funny asides during dialogue sequences. Most of Extracurricular Activities is told in the same way. However, interspersed with Alison’s narrations are sequences from Crawford’s point-of-view written in the third-person, past-tense. I liked this addition simply because it helped to flesh out Crawford’s character by showing events from his perspective. In terms of the plot it was also the best way to tell the story since there are events that would be impossible for Alison to witness firsthand. Thus, without Crawford’s segments, the story would have had a lot of talking back and forth about events.
I respect Barbieri for trying something new with her writing in this novel and am intrigued to see what she has in story for her next mystery. That said, the writing in Extracurricular Activities was not as good as its antecedent. This novel came out one year after Barbieri’s first book and, to be blunt, it shows. The writing often felt slapdash with repeated phrases and awkward sentences that were not an issue in the the first novel. That is not to say this is a bad book, it isn’t. Extracurricular Activities was actually a lot of fun, an ultimately cheerful and optimistic mystery. That just didn’t always coincide with the smoothest writing.
Alison’s adventures continue in Quick Study (2008).