"Final Exam" by Maggie Barbieri
Minotaur, 324 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
One would think that any college professor who carries a teaching load of four classes on a Friday would be entrenched in the tenure pool of her employer (in this case, her alma mater as well).
Far from it: Like Rodney Dangerfield, Dr. Alison Bergeron doesn't seem to get much respect from the uppity-up's and muckety-muck's at St. Thomas College, on the scenic Hudson River in the Bronx.
Except, that is, from Marcus, the fellow who preps her "anything with bacon" breakfasts in the commuter's cafeteria on campus.
So, the good doctor is fairly unsurprised when she's forced to accept the onerous task of taking over for a resident adviser who's skipped out after spring break, leaving St. Thomas in the lurch for the remaining five weeks of the semester.
Dr. B is sizzling to beat her morning rasher of bacon, but she's not altogether unhappy to ditch her cushy digs, as they've been overrun by the increasingly monosyllabic, never-lift-a-finger (except to extract a wine cork), deep-down-in-the-dumps best pal, Maxine Rayfield (also a St. Thomas alumna; now a hotshot TV producer).
Max has bailed on her marriage, early in its freshman year, to NYPD Det. Fred Wyatt, on spurious grounds involving his lovers emeriti (as if Max hasn't notched up a bedpost or two, back in her day).
Misery may love company, but the misery of dorm living proves the lesser of two evils for Alison, mixing metaphors as she is wont to do.
This being author Maggie Barbieri's fourth "Murder 101" mystery, there's likely to be some mayhem in that dorm, and it might naturally spring from the AWOL resident adviser, as well as from many of the other students occupying the aged edifice, who consider the MIA RA "way cool," even if Alison is inclined to disagree.
Therein lies the plot, with Alison giving it the old college try, straight down the line (those darned mixed metaphors, again), in order to get to the bottom of the RA's vanishing act. Meanwhile, she's carrying that full teaching load and sneaking her boyfriend, NYPD Det. Bobby Crawford, into the dorm after hours (the more things change, and all that jazz).
Well, the bacon helps-- as do the Italian subs, the greasy diner burgers, the pizza, the dorm's vending-machine effluvia, and the vodka martinis. Especially the vodka martinis.
Barbieri's humor boosts her authorial GPA in a mystery series that has been optioned for TV by actress Kristin Davis. Now, if Dr. Alison Bergeron really looks like Kristin Davis, it seems she would be teaching eight sections on Friday-- and every other day. To gaga-guy-gorged classes, that is.
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