Physical Education: A Murder 101 Mystery

Maggie Barbieri. Minotaur, $24.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-59329-2

Barbieri adroitly mixes campus politics, mob wars, and religious scandals in her sixth mystery featuring English professor Alison Bergeron (after 2010’s Third Degree). When Paul, the new mail carrier at St. Thomas, the small Catholic university in New York City where Alison teaches, turns up dead in the trunk of Alison’s car, her new husband, Det. Robert Crawford, warns her off the case. Paul, it turns out, is really Vito Passella, a member of a local crime family. Meanwhile, Alison is deeply involved in temporarily coaching the school’s basketball team—a true test of her tact in dealing with incompetent players as well as their pushy parents. What little remains of her time is spent trying to exonerate her friend Fr. Kevin McManus, forced to take leave as school chaplain after anonymous accusations of impropriety. That Crawford becomes evasive and reclusive adds to her stress, but Alison remains irreverent, cynical, and totally engaging throughout. (Dec.)