Murder is Academic by Christine Poulson

published 2002  chapter 8

‘Let’s begin, shall we?’ Ingrid gestured towards a round mahogany table in the centre of the room.

‘Where do you want us to sit?’ I asked, for all the world as though this were a dinner-party.

‘I’ll sit here. If you could be opposite, Cassandra. And – now let me see – if I have Stephen on my left and Merfyn on my right. Does that suit everyone? I think it works best if it goes male, female.’ It is just like a dinner-party! I thought. However, there was nothing on the polished table except a small pile of A4 lined paper, a Biro and a couple of pencils. We took our places. Would it be like séances in the movies, where everyone puts their hands on the table? Rather to my surprise it was. We didn’t hold hands, but just let our little fingers touch. Ingrid looked round the table, catching the eye of each of us in turn. Then she gave a little nod…

I stole a glance at Ingrid. Her face was expressionless, her eyes closed, her lips slightly parted. She wasn’t what I’d been expecting. Though, come to think of it, what had I been expecting? A fey, New Age figure with long hair and floaty garments? A dotty, dishevelled eccentric like Margaret Rutherford in Blithe Spirit? Ingrid was a woman of about fifty, discreetly made-up, wearing deep red nail varnish and what looked like a Jaeger suit.

observations: This is another Cambridge murder mystery, published by Ostara, but dated 70 years after the recently-featured Murder at Cambridge, and women play some rather different roles. There’s quite a genre of academic murder stories - perhaps because detective fiction is always reputed to be popular with dons, and they write of what they know. Many a modern female lecturer is out hunting murderers, following up clues, being thoughtful about her students, and running an exotic lovelife. While also dealing with office politics and, as in this case, unpleasant heads of college. And, usually searching for some lost documents, or papers, or (these days) computer discs. Amanda Cross (who died in 2003) started writing such mysteries in 1964, and has been joined by many others along the way. If you like these books, then this is a nice example – a bit slow-moving and confused at times, but promising well – it was the first of a short series.

The séance above is something of a red herring, but séances are always a great addition to any murder story (as Agatha Christie well knew), and this plot strand is very funny.

Links on the blog: The Pale Horse and The Box surround another séance. Javier Marias was busy at Oxford University, and Possession was a literary version of an academic mystery.

The picture of a séance is by Vaino Kunnas, is in an art gallery in Finland, and is part of the Google Art Project.


  1. Moira - I can't help it; I've always had a liking for academic mysteries. Even the ones that aren't remarkable have always been fun to read and it sounds as though this one is too. And that séance scene adds to it...


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