The blurb and arresting cover caught my attention and as I felt in the mood for an amusing contemporary whodunit, I requested the Netgalley arc.
Graham Pugh should be having a ball as a first-year student at the University of Texas in Austin. Unfortunately for him, his roommate, Bishop ‘Call Me Bish’ Alexander, is an arrogant asshole he can’t stand, to the point of dreaming of killing him in his sleep. Even more unfortunately for Graham, when he wakes up early one morning for a lecture, he finds that Bishop actually is dead on the floor. With Graham the prime suspect, E.J., Willis and the girls race up to Austin immediately. Unsurprisingly, it just so happens that Bishop annoyed a lot of people on campus, not just Graham. But who killed him? E.J. is soon facing a desperate battle to prove her son’s innocence.
This story, told in multiple pov with E.J.’s viewpoint in first person, was a bit grittier than I’d originally assumed. There were regular flashes of humour and plenty of snarky dialogue – but E.J. was too genuinely distressed at the prospect of her son being accused of murdering the unspeakable Bish for it to be truly comedic. In true whodunit tradition, no one appeared to care much for Bish, who was greedy, insulting and manipulative such that even his own mother wasn’t shedding too many tears.
As for the hapless Graham – despite the fact that there wasn’t any hard and fast proof that he had done it – the local police commander heading up the investigation decided early on that he was the only viable suspect. While I haven’t read any of the previous E.J. Pugh murder mysteries, I did get the sense that in this one, she is further out of her comfort zone than usual. What worked really well, was the uncomfortable dynamic between Graham and E.J.
Under normal circumstances, children leaving for college helps to establish them as adults. Though often needs parental assistance, it tends to be from a distance. Not so when Graham finds himself the chief suspect in a murder investigation that has the campus buzzing. When he calls his mother in, the two of them are clearly floundering. E.J. is concerned and protective, while Graham is terrified and wanting help – but not so that any of his peers would notice that it’s his mother offering the much-needed assistance.
Indeed, I found E.J. a fascinating protagonist. She certainly has edges. As well as battling her overly protective maternal instincts, she seems very ambivalent towards her husband. I had expected him to be the rock on which she leans as she negotiates this tricky investigation – but that role falls to Luna, her neighbour and local policewoman, who travels to Austin out of her jurisdiction to work with the crusty, recently divorced Champion heading up the case. Getting the measure of her character was every bit as interesting as the murder mystery, which has plenty of twists and turns – though I would have liked a sense that the victim was more than just a complete tosser who was universally unpleasant to everyone.
As for the denouement – while one of the key suspects was early on easy to spot, I certainly didn’t guess the motive or the actual murder suspect before the climactic reveal. This is an entertaining cosy murder mystery with plenty going on and an interesting protagonist. Recommended.
While I obtained the arc of The Student Body from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.