A sheriffs past revealed in Medieval Murders
Review: Medieval Murders
By Aaron Stander
Writers & Editors, LLC
By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Since reading the first book in the Ray Elkins series by Interlochen mystery writer, Aaron Stander, Ive wondered about Ray. More than a capable sheriff in Cedar County, Michigan, Ray is quiet and caring and tenaciousbut self-protective and slightly reluctant to open himself to anyone.
Rays a good cop. He always gets his man. He has eclectic tastes in music, literature and food (especially Stilton cheese), has good relationships with women, and is a thoroughly likeable man. But there was something more.
Now I understand.
Medieval Murders, the fifth in this popular Northern Michigan series, (after Summer People, Color Tour, Deer Season, and Shelf Ice) is a prequel to the other four books. It answers many questions about Ray: who he is, where he came from, and about the deep sorrow that darkened his life.
Before Ray came to live in Northern Michigan, before he became the sheriff of Cedar County and took on murderous snowplows and killers burrowed into shelf-ice caves, he was the Chair of the Criminal Justice Program at a midwestern university. Thereafter, he was talked into taking the post as interim director of the university police. You would think that a quiet gig. Drinking and drugging and mugging. Standard stuff at a university. But then Medievalists in the English Department begin to die. Ray is at his lowest. Ellen, his lover of many years, died a year ago and Rays suffering hasnt lessened. During Ellens last months he would wake, listen to her breathing, and wonder about the future. His despair had started long before she was gone.
Not the first man to bury his sorrow in his work, Ray cant let go of a campus death, a woman professor who leapt to her death from the carillon, a suicide: An academic robe, luxurious folds of heavy black silk and rich blue velvet, covered the bird-like figure. A soft velvet hat with gold braid lay next to the crushed skull. Small streams of blood drained from the mouth and nose, forming a pool around the tassel.
A thoroughly detested person, Sheila Bensen was denied tenure. Angered beyond reason, she had quickly filed lawsuits and set about making herself unpopular among the faculty and students. But suicide? Ray isnt convinced. And then another female professor of Medieval Studies comes up dead, this time with a suicide note that only such a woman would leave. A sonnet:
O me! What eyes hath Love put in my head,
Which have no correspondence with true sight;
Or, if they have, where is my judgment fled,
That censures falsely what they see aright?
And then anotherin a fiery accident. This one has a reputation as a solid drinker, but then alcohol figures heavily with all the dead women.
Despite pressure from the administration to protect the universitys reputation from bad press and funding cuts by the state legislature and declare all the deaths suicides or accidents, Elkins wont let go of what he senses lies beneath the deaths. He looks into every aspect of the womens lives, searching for that one place where they intersected personally, and not letting go untilbit by bithe assembles pieces of the puzzle. Secrets, lies, hatred, hypocrisythey are all there at this seemingly quiet university.
Along with a fine character study and a good mystery, Stander, an academic himself, gives a fascinating look behind the scenes at university politics and problems besetting departments: 21 sections of Womens Literature and 9 sections of African-American Literature and 5 of Hispanic Literature made it this term, but only 3 sections of Shakespeare.
So, in addition to being killed off one by one, the Medievalists face a bleak and marginalized future. As with businesses facing downsizing, retooling, and change, the faculty is rife with jealousy, competition, and destructive human beings clinging to their jobs.
While Elkins is busy unmasking a killer, women around him have honed in, like bloodhounds, on his newly single status. At least one of the women has a novel twist on the old casserole left on the porch routine, moving in on poor unaware Ray, offering herself and, when that doesnt work, offering up other vestal virgins she stumbles upon.
Ray has his work cut out for him in Medieval Murders. As with the other novels in this series, there are things to learn and things to be shown and a murderer to unmask. All of this while showing Ray overcoming a past that, in Summer People and the others of the series, was only hinted at.
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli will sign and discuss her new mystery, Dead Dogs and Englishman on Wednesday, August 3, 1 pm, at McLean and Eakin Bookstore in Petoskey.