I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Academic Curveball – see my review here, so when I realised the second book was already out, and given the major cliff-hanger ending, I got hold of this one.
When an extra ticket becomes available to attend the dress rehearsal of Braxton’s King Lear production, Kellan tags along with Nana D and her buddies, sisters-in-law Eustacia and Gwendolyn Paddington, to show support for the rest of the Paddington family. When one of them appears to have a heart attack in the middle of the second act, Nana D raises her suspicions and asks Kellan to investigate who killed her friend. Amidst family members suddenly in debt and a secret rendezvous between an unlikely pair, Kellan learns the Paddingtons might not be as clean-cut as everyone thinks. But did one of them commit murder for an inheritance?
Cudney’s smooth, readable style scooped me up and swiftly drew me back into life on Braxton campus. While you might initially flounder slightly if you hadn’t had the pleasure of reading Academic Curveball, Cudney ensures you’ll soon make sense of what is going on – and indeed, there’s plenty to keep poor Kellen on the back foot.
His main relationship is with his feisty, sharp-tongued grandmother, Nana D. I really like the intergenerational dynamic within the story. Kellen’s grandmother isn’t introduced just to give us a few smiles at his expense as her snarky replies leaves him waving in the wind, Nana D is important to the story as a character in her own right. I also like the fact that the victim is one of her elderly friends – and that her death is investigated with the same rigour as the hapless youngster in the previous book. Far too much casual ageism is exhibited within this genre, so encountering Cudney’s take on the older characters in his story is refreshing change.
The mystery is nicely twisty, with plenty of potential suspects. I also liked the character development moving forward through the series – while the Sheriff was extremely hostile towards Kellen’s involvement in the previous book, she becomes less so during this investigation, as Kellen proves his worth and gains her rather grudging trust. Once more, Cudney’s skill in handling the whodunit is apparent, while I had a couple of candidates in mind for the wicked deed – neither of them were responsible and yet the culprit had a solid motive.
Any niggles? Well, I was floored by the revelation at the end of the first book and very eager to find out exactly what had happened – to the extent of skimming the first few pages to discover the outcome. If I have a grizzle, it would be that this major plotpoint was slightly squeezed out of the story at the expense of the investigation. So I’m hoping the next book will put Kellen’s personal issues right in the centre of the story, because I’m very keen to see him finally face up to that cauldron of regret, anger and thwarted love…