"I can just imagine the questions in history," Fox said. "Who was our first of it, maybe the second one's too hard. But you get the idea!"
"Yeah," Burns said. "I get the idea."
Hartley Gorman College, in Pecan City, Texas, is hardly a bastion of serious scholarship. The little Baptist school is more interested in shielding its students from the evil influence of The World, The Flesh, and The Devil than in turning out future Nobelists. But its staff, by and large, is worthy of a more demanding institution; they are victims of a glutted market in Ph.D.s and they do the best they can. So it is they who are most upset at Dean Elmore's "secret plan" to award credit hours for "undirected study" by "independent scholars"—in plain words, to turn the school into a diploma mill.
Which may be why Dean Elmore, shortly after unveiling his plan, is found bludgeoned to death at his desk. It is certainly why, at his funeral, there is not a wet eye in the house.
Or so observes Carl Burns, Hartley Gorman professor of English literature, through whose eyes we see both the crime and the larger picture of this wacky denominational Texas school.
Those readers familiar with Bill Crider's books about Sheriff Dan Rhodes of Blacklin County, Texas, knows how wryly witty this author can be; here the humor is revved up a few notches, and the resulting account of Elmore's murder, Sheriff "Boss" Napier's investigation, Bums's well-meant meddling, and the people and doings at Hartley Gorman are the exactly-right mix of realism and wackiness to make the book a delight as well as a suspenseful mystery.
ABOUT BILL CRIDER : "I was born and brought up in Mexia (that's pronounced Muh-HAY-uh by the natives), Texas. The town's most famous former citizen is Anna Nicole Smith, whom my brother taught in biology class when she was in the ninth grade. I've always lived in small Texas towns, unless you count Austin as a large town. It wasn't so large when I lived there, though. I attended The University of Texas at Austin for many, many years. My wife (the lovely Judy) says that I would never have left grad school if she hadn't forced me to get out and get a real job. I eventually earned my Ph.D. there, writing a dissertation on the hardboiled detective novel, and thereby putting my mystery-reading habit to good use. Before that, I'd gotten my M.A. at the University of North Texas (in Denton), and afterward I taught English at Howard Payne University for twelve years. Then I moved to scenic Alvin, Texas, where until 2002 I was the Chair of the Division of English and Fine Arts. I retired in August 2002 to become a either a full-time writer or a part-time bum. Take your pick."