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Schooled in Murder (Tom & Scott Mysteries)by Mark Zubro
Synopses & Reviews
Tom Mason, Chicago area high school teacher, has been teaching at Grover Cleveland High School for a while - long enough to loathe the faculty meetings and long enough to know that as bad as they are, they aren't fatal. Usually. Having had all he can take of the endless bickering, picking and factional disputes, he sneaks out of the meeting for a short break only to find the meeting over when he returns, the usual suspects having departed to the four winds. Having decided that this was a sign of his good fortune, he decides to see if the stockroom actually has the supplies he needs. What he finds there however is a trysting couple in the dark (one married, the other not) and, once the light is turned on, a dead body in the corner. The body is that of one of his colleagues who stormed out of the faculty meeting earlier, a blackboard eraser stuffed into her lifeless mouth. Having disappeared from the meeting at roughly the same time, Tom finds himself in the unwelcome position of prime suspect and with the help of his husband, former baseball player Scott Carpenter, he'll have to figure out who really killed the other teacher before the crime is pinned on him.
"An acrimonious English department faculty meeting at Chicago-area Grover Cleveland High leads to murder in Zubro's intriguing 12th Tom and Scott mystery (after 2006's Everyone's Dead but Us). English teacher Tom Mason's troubles begin after he discovers the corpse of teacher Gracie Eberson, an eraser stuck in her mouth, in a supply room also occupied by two male teachers engaged in a sexual tryst. The guilty pair deny Tom's official report about their illicit activity, and an anonymous tip implicates Tom in Eberson's murder. When the dead body of another teacher turns up behind Tom's car, Tom turns sleuth. Tom's lover, Scott Carpenter, and such friends as Meg Swarthmore, Grover Cleveland's feisty librarian, and police officer Frank Rohde lend support. Zubro, a high school English teacher himself, invests this whodunit with sharp insights into what can happen when prejudice rules as well as timely lessons on educational chicanery. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The author of the Donald Strachey mystery series uses a pseudonym. Richard Stevenson is not his real name. In fact, almost nobody connected to Stevenson's new novel, forthcoming next month, is who he claims to be. While the author — in real life, Book World mystery columnist Richard Lipez — has nothing nefarious to hide, his scheming characters can't make the same claim. They change names, cover... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) up embarrassing pasts, lie to friends. None of this would matter, of course, if not for the murder. As "Death Vows" opens, Strachey, a hard-boiled detective in Albany, N.Y., is enlisted to investigate a mysterious young man named Barry Fields, who may or may not be a violent con man and gold-digger, preparing to marry an older man named Bill Moore just over the Massachusetts state line in the Berkshires. (If, in fact, those are their real names. Which they're not.) The investigation gets complicated when someone kills Strachey's client, sleazy busybody Jim Sturdivant. (Yes, that's technically his real name, but it hides more than it reveals about his past.) Fingers quickly point at young Fields, but Strachey isn't convinced. Motives abound for numerous residents of this small town: love, sex, money, politics — and, of course, those secrets that need to stay secret at any cost. "Is Great Barrington the liars' capital of the Northeast," Strachey wonders aloud, "or what's the damn deal, anyway?" It's never a good sign when, among a detective's interview subjects, mobsters are the only straight shooters. So to speak. This is Stevenson's ninth Donald Strachey novel, and his deliciously clipped style makes room for character and a heavy helping of humor without sacrificing pacing. The author is particularly adept at using snippets of rapid-fire dialogue to establish characters' personalities, which tend toward the sarcastic. When a suspect tries to rattle Strachey by telling him, "Our friend said you used to look something like Tom Selleck but that you had outgrown that look," Strachey strikes back: "It's funny how that works. It happened to Tom Selleck, too." Then he adds, "If fifty is the new Prague, I'm somewhere between Budapest and Dubrovnik." There are plenty more zingers, but the language gets too salty to reprint here. Four years after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts, Stevenson explores the darker implications of uttering the vow "till death do us part." For instance, a closeted couple might live together informally with some privacy, but marriages are public record — something that could provoke violent reactions from an intolerant sibling or small-minded, um, business associate. A young man might find himself penniless if his casual boyfriend should, say, die of unnatural causes before he makes a will; the same young man could inherit all of his husband's possessions if they legally wed before some "accident" happens. There's only one couple in "Death Vows" whose connection is honest, public and lacking ulterior motives: Strachey and his partner Timothy Callahan. He serves as Strachey's sounding board, support system and confidant. He doesn't let Strachey get away with anything, matching him quip for quip — same as any good partner. But since they live in New York, they can't get married. If that changes, Stevenson will surely write about it, with the snappiest wedding vows you've ever heard. Marriage isn't a major motif in Mark Richard Zubro's "Schooled in Murder" — the author tackled that subject earlier in his "Tom and Scott" mystery series, when amateur sleuth Tom Mason finally tied the knot with his beau, former baseball pro Scott Carpenter. (A murder put a damper on the ceremony, but that is, literally, another story: Zubro's 2002 novel, "Here Comes the Corpse.") Nonetheless, as in "Death Vows," partnership again proves essential. "Schooled in Murder" focuses on a high school outside Chicago, where acrimony between teachers and administrators leads to two murders. Mason, an English teacher and union rep, tries to uncover who's behind the killings, but soon finds himself a prime suspect — and, perhaps, the next victim. While he's penned a dozen "Tom and Scott" books and nine "Paul Turner Mysteries," Zubro was also an English teacher in Illinois for 34 years and a union president for 20, before retiring in 2006. So he knows the intricate politics of school administrations: minor policy disputes that become petty wars, meddling administrators wielding undue influence, torrid affairs between staff members. But what's more interesting here than the workplace shenanigans, the murders or even the covert sexual liaisons that involve so many educators — male and female, married and single, gay and straight — is Mason himself. Mason relies on his partner for refuge, perspective and emotional support. He has a lot to deal with beside the normal stresses of teaching: homophobia from backstabbing colleagues, deception by those he trusts and the threat of physical violence. He couldn't get through it alone. The murders may drive the book's action, but the affection between Tom and Scott gives "Schooled in Murder" the heart that makes Zubro's tale so human. Both Stevenson and Zubro put couples at the center of their narratives. But these aren't traditional crime-solving duos, like "Batman & Robin" or even "Hart to Hart." These are a different kind of partnership. True, only one man in each book actually solves the mysteries. But without the other man lending support at home, each sleuth would be as good as dead. Wayne Hoffman is the author of "Hard: A Novel." Reviewed by Wayne Hoffman, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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The twelfth installment in Zubro's mystery series featuring Tom Mason and Scott Carpenter.
About the Author
Mark Richard Zubro has written numerous books in both the Paul Turner and the Tom Mason/Scott Carpenter mystery series. A winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay/Lesbian Mystery (for A Simple Suburban Murder), he is an English teacher and union president in Mokena, IL, just outside of Chicago.
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