JANET NEEL – Death Among the Dons. Francesca & John MacLeish #4. St. Martin’s, US, hardcover, 1994. Pocket, US, paperback, 1995. First published in the UK by Constable, hardcover, 1993.

   My only problem with Janet Neel is that she’s just written four books. She’s among my favorite British writers.

   Francesca Wilson, now married to Superintendent John MacLeish, is having a rough time of it. Her 6-month old son won’t sleep, and neither can Francesca. She and motherhood aren’t sgreeing at all. During a more-or-less enforced visit to a health spa, she makes the acquaintance of a woman who is tapped to take over Gladstone University, an all-female College, after the former head is found dead of an overdose of Valium.

   Francesca is asked to assume the part-time and temporary post of Bursar as the school, to straighten out its horrendously messed-up finances. She accepts and steps into a mare’s nest of political intrigue and academic in-fighting. Then two students are attacked, and a professor is almost killed.

   Neel’s major (though certainly not her only) strength lies in her characters. Though Francesca (MacLeish’s role is secondary) is kept at he center of the story, she is only one of the major characters. The story is told in the third person from several viewpoints, and the most prominent one is that of the newly-appointed head, an aging but still strong woman.

   Numerous other characters play significant roles, and all are sharply and convincingly drawn. Francesca and John remain one of the most likale pairs in crime fiction, and their personal lives are mixed unobtrusively with a very good and well-told story.

   This is an excellent book in all respects, by a writer who deserves to be recognized as one of the best if she already isn’t.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.

The Francesca Wilson & John MacLeish series —

1. Death’s Bright Angel (1988)

2. Death on Site (1989)
3. Death of a Partner (1991)
4. Death Among the Dons (1993)
5. A Timely Death (1996)

6. To Die For (1998)
7. O Gentle Death (2000)