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by G M Malliet
Midnight Ink, January 2010
284 pages
ISBN: 0738719676

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Author GM Malliet set a high bar for herself following her first book. Winning an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, as well as a host of accolades for DEATH OF A COZY WRITER, she followed it up with a successful second novel, DEATH AND THE LIT CHICK. Now comes DEATH AT THE ALMA MATER, the third novel in the St Just series, and the storyline and characters will continue to please readers. It's easy to see that the likable Detective Chief Inspector Arthur St Just will have a long run among fans, likely with many more mysteries to solve.

In this book, the focus is an alumni weekend scheduled for a group of wealthy graduates from the crumbling St Michael's College in Cambridge. Unlike many of the more prestigious colleges of the university with long donor lists and famous graduates, St Michael's is a lesser known college that's fallen on hard times. In an effort to woo some funding support, a small group of its successful graduates are invited for the weekend to re-live their college days and open their checkbooks wide.

Things are bumpy from the beginning, as this group includes socialite Lexy Laurant, who is the ex-wife of Sir James, who also happens to be in attendance with his new wife, India. There are plenty of other interesting characters as well to populate this murder mystery (and suspect list) - a loud-mouthed Texan, a quiet New York financier and his wife, Lexy's playboy escort for the weekend, as well as assorted fellows and students and staff. When, after a Saturday evening dinner, Lexy turns up dead at the boathouse, there are more than enough suspects, and plenty of hidden stories to uncover. No one, it appears, is as he or she seems.

Trying to sort this all out is Detective Chief Inspector St Just and his sidekick Sergeant Fear, both endearing characters who know how to balance the oversized egos at play in this drama. Indeed, it is St Just's astute psychological insights that lead to the discovery of the murderer and the means.

This, unfortunately, is the one less-than-sterling spot in the entire novel. The means by which St Just uncovers the murderer (interviewing the witnesses) is utterly captivating, and readers will not want to put the book down as it winds to a close. Less satisfying in this particular novel is the method by which the murder is carried out, which stretches the imagination just a bit too far. Until that point, this was a perfect-pitch murder mystery novel. It's still a charming book, well worth reading, despite this glitch. This may not be as good as Malliet's earlier works, but it certainly shouldn't be missed.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, January 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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