Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Phi Beta Murder, by C.S. Challinor

Phi Beta Murder
By C.S. Challinor

I've become something of a cheerleader for C.S. Challinor's Rex Graves novels. This is the third in a series that recently saw a sixth volume released. I've read four of these six books so far and I'm sure I'll be checking out the others soon.

Graves is a middle-aged Scottish barrister and widower with a son in college. It's that son who figures prominently in this volume as Graves goes out of his element to visit him at the small college he attends in Florida. Which is a kind of a switcheroo for the author who apparently attended school in Scotland and now makes her home in Florida.

Anyway, at the precise moment that Graves and his son first make their way to his dorm, they come upon the apparent suicide of one of the students, who's found hanging inside his locked dorm room. Yes, one must frequently suspend disbelief a bit in this sort of book when it comes to such coincidences. Now, before the locked room contingent begin to salivate, I'll say right out that this aspect of the book is so slight as to be barely worth mentioning. That's not a criticism, really. I don't think the author even set out to write a humdinger of a locked room book, though I could be wrong.

In any event, because he's a lawyer and has had some experience with amateur investigating, the dead student's parents ask Graves to look into the boy's death and he does just that. Given the title of the book I won't be spoiling anything to say that the suicide was not what it seemed. Graves works pretty methodically to get to the bottom of things and of course he figures it all out.

Like all of books in this series this one was compact and to the point, although there was a bit of an unnecessary digression regarding one of Rex's old flames. There's nothing fancy or flashy about Challinor's books but that works just fine for me.

With all of that said, I also have to say that I liked this the least of the four books that I've read so far. That's only because Graves is out of his element here. The other installments I've read found him solving crimes in a snowed-in Scottish hotel, in his hunting lodge on the moors and in a good old-fashioned country house. Rex hanging out in Florida with a bunch of college kids made for a solid enough book, but it lacked the atmosphere of those others.

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