Friday, March 5, 2010

The Ariadne Clue

Alison Parker was kind enough to send me The Ariadne Clue by Carol Clemeau and The Student Body by J. S. Borthwick. I’ll be writing a bit about each of these, however, both books are out of print, so you’ll have to look for used copies, or check them out of your local library.

Let me start out by saying that, as you might expect from someone who reads military SF with its high body count, that when I read mysteries/detectives I typically read books in the hard-boiled genre. These books typically have tough guys, and the women (“dames” or “broads” in 40s speak) are as tough as the guys. Hard-boiled authors include Chandler, Hammet, and Spillane.

The opposite side of the mystery spectrum is what is termed the “cozy.” This is a less violent, less sexy kind of mystery. Murders generally involve poison; the detective is frequently female, and she is often in some kind of non-violent occupation such as a teacher, or a tea shop proprietor. There’s at least one web site devoted to cozy mysteries.

The Ariadne Clue is, as you might expect, an academic mystery that involves the Classics. A college is planning an expedition of Aegean gold, including masks from Mycenae, and material from Crete, home of the Minotaur (shown above). There is an apparent break-in and the gold is missing. A graduate student, named Ariadne, is missing and is suspected. A professor at the college, Antonia Nielsen, discovers a series of clues that lead to the unraveling of the mystery, and the disclosure of the culprit.

Despite being praised, in a blurb, by P. D. James, this is what the trade calls a singleton, the sole book in the genre by the author.

If the sine qua non of the “cozy” is that you’d like to spend time with the characters, how does this fit in? I suppose to some extent that depends on how you feel about academia. It is very academically oriented, and while there is no esoteric discussion of the classics, there are things that will make the non-classicist (the optative, aorist mood) scratch his head in puzzlement.

It’s unfortunate that there have not been any more books, the characters showed promise that could have been developed over a series.