Murder on Campus (ISBN: 978-1-60381-138-5, $12.95, 288 pp.), originally published in 1994, is the fifth of Hazel Holt’s Mrs. Malory mysteries.
Click here to see the redesigned editions of the first four Mrs. Malory mysteries. All five books (and the two to come: Superfluous Death and Death of a Dean) are available at the standard discount/returnable through Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Bookstores in the UK can now also order from Ingram at the standard discount.
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Superfluous Death will be available in January and Death of a Dean in February, 2012.
A small university in Pennsylvania has engaged Mrs. Sheila Malory to teach a course on Nineteenth-Century Women writers, and so, with some reluctance, the widow leaves her home in the charming seaside village of Taviscombe to experience academic life in America. The semester will prove even more challenging than she thought, for no sooner does she arrive than a colleague is found with a bullet in his head. The victim is particularly nasty, a man many would like to see dead. Lieutenant Landis, the lead investigator, just happens to be divorced, available, and eager to discuss Shakespeare. When he asks Mrs. Malory for help, he puts her in a difficult position. Should she assist him in his investigation, even if her efforts encourage his romantic interest? Sheila, who can’t resist a good murder mystery, forges ahead. What she discovers will make her regret that she ever left Taviscombe.
Hazel Holt was born in Birmingham, England, where she attended King Edward VI High School for Girls. She studied at Newnham College, Cambridge, and went on to work at the International African Institute in London, where she became acquainted with the novelist Barbara Pym, whose biography she later wrote. She also finished one of Pym’s novels after Pym died. Holt has also recently published My Dear Charlotte, a story that uses the actual language of Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra to construct a Regency murder mystery. Holt wrote her first novel in her sixties, and is a leading crime novelist. She is best known for her Mrs. Malory series. Her son is novelist Tom Holt.
Keep reading for an excerpt:
‘Would you like to see upstairs? It’s a fine house in its own right. Not old by British standards, of course, but very typical of the large mansions being built by the great industrialists of the day.’
I love looking over houses, large or small, and this was a really remarkable one. Upstairs, most of the twenty or so bedrooms were now divided up into offices and study rooms for the Research Center, but Theo Portman’s office still had its original splendour.
‘It was Mrs Whittier’s boudoir,’ he said, ‘and a bit feminine—though not quite as frilly and fussy as Mrs Theodore Roosevelt’s boudoir at Oyster Bay, Long Island. Have you seen that house yet? You really should. But I kept the Louis XV furniture and that Greuze and that particularly fine Nattier—oh and the Van Dyck, of course.’
Hanging behind his desk was a portrait of a seventeenth-century gentleman who bore an extraordinary resemblance to Theo Portman himself, small pointed beard and all.
Linda and I exclaimed delightedly and he smiled with pleasure.
‘My little joke,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t resist it.’
‘It must have needed an enormous staff,’ I said, ‘to keep all this up.’
‘Indeed. Practically the whole of the top floor was servants’ quarters. We keep the computers and so on up there. Would you like to have a look?’
We ascended a smaller and plainer staircase than the handsome, ornately carved one leading up from the great hall. The top floor was a warren of corridors, the labels on whose doors proclaimed them to be study and photocopying rooms or, more simply, ‘Administration’. Theo Portman opened a few doors to reveal an impressive array of electronic equipment, which had Linda asking eager questions. She’s a terrific computer enthusiast and actually seems to understand them and, I must admit, when I see her making an index, say, on her own machine I do see the point of them and feel very much that I’m living in the Stone Age with my own cards-in-a-shoe-box method!
‘Oh yes,’ Theo said, ‘there is something up here you might be interested to see.’
We went down yet another corridor and he opened a door into a large room which, in addition to the usual complement of computers, had walls lined with shelves, laden with files.
‘This,’ he said, ‘used to be the linen room. All those shelves used to hold linen. Smell the wood—it’s all cedar, anti-moth, you see. And this,’ he unwound a sort of roller affair, ‘was how they stored those enormous damask tablecloths, so that they didn’t crease.’
‘How gorgeous,’ I said, sniffing at the wood. ‘The cedar smell is still very strong. And what marvellous quality it all is and how beautifully made, everything just so and splendidly planned!’
‘Oh, yes,’ Theo said, ‘a lot of thought went into the smallest detail.’ He moved to the far comer of the room towards what seemed like a couple of enormous chests.
‘These were blanket chests, also lined with cedar, of course. You see, this looks like a drawer, but actually it swings outwards on a pivot just below waist level so you don’t have to stoop to put things in.’ He put his hand on one of the chests, pulled gently and the side section swung out revealing a deep box.
But the box wasn’t empty. Lying inside it was the body of a man.