Even if you feel that your professor has the power of life and death over you, is that any reason to drown her while she’s grading your work?
Coming to collect the exams from her colleague Margaret Joplin, Professor Cassandra James finds the head of the English Department of St. Ethelreda’s College, Cambridge, floating in her swimming pool along with an unfortunate number of exams. The paper conservators at the Fitzwilliam Museum manage to restore the waterlogged screeds, but Cassandra, when asked to replace Margaret, finds it much harder to restore her department to scholarly viability. Under pressure from the Head of the College to force her eccentric colleagues to publish, she’s distracted by wondering exactly how Margaret perished. She’d been having an affair that might have threatened her marriage, and like Cassandra, she’d been increasing the pressure on her wayward English Department colleagues. For instance, Cassandra’s mentor and colleague, Merfyn, has made a career out of being just about to publish a book. Under Margaret’s encouragement, he’s actually been making progress—until he attends a séance in which the spirit of Conan Doyle tells him to tear it up. And then a plagiarizing student is killed while recovering from a suspicious fall. Has someone taken academic integrity a little too seriously?
Poulson’s debut offers charming proof of Raymond Chandler’s remark about the viciousness with which academics pursue their careers.