Third Degree: A Murder 101 Mystery
English professor and amateur sleuth Alison Bergeron cannot imagine a fate worse than having to meet her boyfriend’s parents for the first time at a pool party. There is the dreaded issue of what to wear: a Speedo with missing pieces of elastic, a relic from a long-ago honeymoon with her serially philandering and now dead ex-husband, appears to be her only wardrobe option. There is the awkward confession to come: that she is afraid of the water and never learned to swim. Most awkward of all is the fact that NYPD detective Bobby Crawford (“Crawford”) is more than just her boyfriend of one year. He is also possibly her fiancé, since he recently made her an impromptu offer of marriage to which she has not yet responded.
Alison knows how she feels about Crawford; a more perfect human could not exist. However, she is not quite sure how she feels about marrying said perfect human given her less-than-stellar marital history. She also is not thrilled about uprooting herself from her little Westchester County village to move to Crawford’s Manhattan home that he sometimes shares with his two teenage kids from a previous marriage. Thus, the cherry Ring Pop that accompanied the proposal now sits on her nightstand, demanding a response from her.
To distract herself from the impending meeting with the Crawford clan and her cold feet about getting remarried, Alison first stops by her local coffee shop, the unfortunately named Beans, Beans. This intended distraction turns into a disaster when she witnesses a brawl that results in the sudden death of Carter Wilmott, a mean-spirited local blogger. Wilmott, being well-heeled and without an obvious need for a job, practiced a form of yellow journalism through his much-visited blog. His scathing restaurant reviews, exposés of local political figures, and other scandal-filled blogs about villagers made him an object of fear and loathing to his many victims.
Since Alison is one of the few witnesses who saw George Miller, the head of the Department of Public Works and one of Wilmott’s recent targets, deliver the fatal roundhouse punch that killed him, she becomes embroiled in the murder case. When Wilmott’s car explodes within minutes of his death, Alison finds herself questioning whether it was such an open-and-shut case of manslaughter after all. There is no shortage of suspects: Was his cool and elegant widow, Lydia, the devoted wife she claimed to have been? What is the role of Greg, the beatnik who runs Beans, Beans in all of this mayhem? Why is Miller’s wife chasing Alison all over town and demanding that she retract her witness statement? Alison, who has never met a mystery she didn’t want to pursue (much to her boyfriend’s dismay), is soon doing some investigating of her own.
Add to this mystery the complicated feelings Alison has about her personal life; her unexplained symptoms of nausea and faintness; an anonymous letter writer who threatens her to stop whatever she’s doing; the help/hindrance provided by Alison’s best friend and resident diva, Max, and her associate, Queen (a Hooters waitress turned private detective); the fact that Fr. Kevin, Alison’s colleague and confidant, has gone AWOL from St. Thomas University; and a college President who has it in for our heroine, and you have a page-turner on your hands.
THIRD DEGREE is a fast-paced, complex, laugh-out-loud funny book full of great twists and turns. Alison --- klutzy, goofy, and as tenacious as a pitbull pup --- is utterly disarming. She is rapidly emerging as my favorite mystery heroine. Author Maggie Barbieri has a real winner in this series that is equal parts mystery, humor and romance. This latest installment and the entire Murder 101 series get an A+ from this reviewer!
Reviewed by Usha Rao on January 14, 2011