Thu 27 Nov 2008
THEODORA WENDER – Murder Gets a Degree. Avon; paperback original, October 1986.
A slim book, at 150 pages (of large print), it still packs a wallop of intensity, emotional drive and impact.
It is also the second fictional collaboration of Wading River’s chief of police Alden Chase with Glad Gold, female professor of English at Turnbull College, the first being Knight Must Fall (Avon, pbo, 1985), in which the former president of the school was murdered and his body thrown into a pool.
Wading River is based on a good many New England towns of the same type — this time apparently of the Rhode Island variety. Providence, H. P. Lovecraft’s hometown, is nearby, and witchcraft, black magic and secret covens figure prominently in the death of poor addled Adah Storm, the last descendant of a long line of permanent Wading River residents.
She even dies on Halloween, but the none of all this has much to do with her murder or the destruction of her home by fire. The motive lies elsewhere, for which I give thanks, as in the context of detective fiction I often find sorcery and contact with evil spirits invariably making for barely tolerable reading.
As another of the new authors recently published by Avon, Theodora Wender does a capable job of misleading the reader with the real clues uncovered by Chase and Gold, but any reader who is paying attention should easily decipher the killer’s identity.
The occasional propensity for using four-letter words seems misplaced in this particular setting and type of story, however, and I while I am happy for Chase and Gold’s delight in each other, I found their tendency to jump into bed (or the equivalent) at every opportunity (so to speak, and hardly explicitly) something I’d somehow (curiously) rather they’d do off-page.
[UPDATE] 11-27-08. I know a little more about the author than I did in 1987. The two books were the only two mysteries she wrote, and from Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV we learn that the author’s real name was Dorothea S. Wender. She was born in 1934 and died in 2003.
This helped me use Google to good advantage, allowing me to discover that “Dorothea Schmidt Wender was born in 1934 in Ohio and graduated from Radcliffe College, and then went to the University of Minnesota and Harvard University. She has been Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Classics at Wheaton College, Massachusetts. Her publications include book reviews and scholarly articles.”
One of her scholarly publications was a translation of a book by ancient Greek authors Hesiod and Theognis: Theogony, Works and Days, and Elegies (Penguin Classics).
I confess that at this relatively late date I do not remember much about the book, but what I said at the time makes me (a) feel like reading it again, and (b) wish that there had been more in the series.