Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney (Braxton Campus Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Solid mystery, good characters
Cons: Several logical niggles, slow pace
The Bottom Line:
Back home to murder
Kellan must clear family
Uneven debut

Kellan Faces One of Life's Curveballs – Murder

Because I need more authors to read and follow, when James J. Cudney reached out to me about reviewing his new book, a cozy mystery, I had to give it a chance.  After all, my to be read pile isn't high enough already.  In all seriousness, I don't read very many academic mystery series, so I was excited to visit Academic Curveball.

Kellan Ayrwick is just home for a visit.  His father, Wesley, is retiring from his job as president of Braxton College, and Kellan is in town for a few days to be part of the dinner given in his father's honor.  Kellan's day job is working on a true crime TV show, and this visit works out well since Kellan can also meet with Abby, a woman who has offered some research for the second season of the show, while he is in town.

Kellan's plans get derailed when he finds the dead body of a professor as the party for his father is winding down.  With several odd things happening at the college, Kellan begins to worry that someone he knows is going to be arrested for the murder.  Can he figure out what has happened?

This is a hard book to review.  I wanted to like it, and there was much to enjoy.  But there were also some serious flaws.  The biggest for me was the pacing.  While there were some good twists and clues, Kellan spent a bit too much time for my taste going over theories and trying to connect the clues and events together.  Several of these scenes were just rehashing things and theories we'd already had, which made the book feel too wordy.

Meanwhile, there were several nitpicks for me.  I could be very wrong on this, but a few of the events felt implausible to me, starting with the fact that this dinner to honor Wesley is being held near the beginning of the semester when he is retiring at the end of the semester.  Wouldn’t it be right before graduation even with a transition to his successor taking place?  That's just one of several things that made me scratch my head as the book unfolded.

But, as I said, there was much to enjoy.  The plot overall was solid, with several viable suspects and a climax that made perfect sense.  I definitely was drawn into the mystery and needed to know who was responsible for what was happening.  There were some good red herrings as well that made it harder to figure everything out.

And I liked the characters.  Kellan is a strong series lead.  In a departure from many of the series I read, he is a widower with a young child, a couple of changes I enjoyed, although we haven’t seen much of his daughter yet.  Over the course of the book, he reconnects with a couple of old friends and we got to see him interact with several members of his family.  These series regulars are fun, and I can see plenty of conflict in the books to come.  The suspects were strong and kept me guessing until the end.  And the last chapter dangled some very interesting developments to be explored in future books in the series.

This is why I found Academic Curveball a mixed bag.  At the heart of the book is a solid debut cozy mystery, but it has enough issues to keep me from fully recommending it.  I'm hopeful these kinks get worked out as the series goes along.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

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