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The Northbury Papers    by Joanne Dobson order for
Northbury Papers
by Joanna Dobson
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 1999 (1998)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

The Northbury Papers is the second in Modern Mysteries of Academic Proportions by English professor Joanne Dobson. Set in a small prestigious New England college the series features assistant professor Karen Pelletier, struggling to establish herself academically in the midst of always interesting collegial politics and small campus shenanigans. It does not help that Karen champions lesser-known 19th century American women writers instead of the more traditional Emerson, Thoreau or even Walt Whitman. In addition, her habit of stumbling upon bodies is damaging to her tenure prospects.

Dobson has created a likeable character with a non-traditional blue-collar background. Pelletier had an early marriage followed by divorce, and in her late 30's has a college age daughter. Her background has made Karen a feisty and independent woman, and her professional training has given her excellent research and investigative skills - the perfect combination for solving mysteries! Obviously familiar with the quirky, stuffy and often egotistic academic characters and departmental turf battles, Dobson also populates the books with an interesting supporting cast.

Karen has been a long time fan of Serena Northbury, the American author of many late 19th century "women's novels". She is delighted to find an old book owned by Northbury and to discover that one of her descendants lives nearby. Edith Hart, a frail elderly lady, turns out to have a treasure trove of Northbury's papers which hint at a scandalous mystery in her life. Karen is immediately hot on the trail. When Hart dies suspiciously with some of the papers missing, the chase is on.

The mystery develops nicely and comes to a satisfying conclusion. Along the way, Karen works with Lieutenant Piotrowski of the Massachusetts State Police Bureau of Investigations. They continue (from their cooperation in Karen's first mystery) to have a prickly chemistry, and it is to be hoped that Dobson will allow their relationship to develop. Dobson now has four Karen Pelletier books in print with the fifth one, The Maltese Manuscript, to be published this month. These are quite enjoyable, not as pedantic as the academic mysteries by Amanda Cross, and readers will look forward to reading more about Karen Pelletier.

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