Graduate student Maggie McLendon, who had a starring role in James's Cruel as the Grave
(2000), returns to play a secondary role in this uneven tale of academic skullduggery. Andy Carpenter's routine is totally disrupted when the Houston Ph.D. candidate (in medieval history) discovers sharp-tongued fellow grad student Charlie Harper lying on a couch in the university library with his head bashed in. The campus police, who have primary responsibility for investigating this crime and a subsequent murder, don't hold a candle to Andy, whose seemingly insatiable appetite for gossip leads him into a morass of sexual liaisons (mostly kinky or gay), plagiarism, blackmail and intellectual theft. If the supporting cast is largely one-dimensional and unengaging, the earnest, wry Andy makes an appealing narrator. And if the Nancy Drew-ish sleuthing doesn't mesh particularly well with the graduate-school setting, James keeps the killer's identity shrouded to the end as motives and opportunities apply to any number of suspects. Agent, Nancy Yost. (May)
James is the author of
Decorated to Death (Forecasts, Mar. 15) and two other books in his Simon Kirby-Jones gay vampire mystery series. He manages the specialty bookstore Murder by the Book in Houston, Tex.