Review: Murder 101 Series by Maggie Barbieri (Books 1-4)

The lovely people at Minotaur sent me the newest book of this series, The Third Degree, for review. Since I’d never heard of the series – I immediately went to the library to pick up the first four so I could play catch-up. So here are my thoughts for them, and I’ll post my review of the new release in a couple of days!

Summary of Murder 101:

Safely away from the chaos of Manhattan, St. Thomas, a small college on the banks of the Hudson River in the Bronx, is supposed to be tranquil, bucolic, and serene. Unfortunately, English professor Alison Bergeron has found it to be anything but. Recently divorced from a fellow professor and even more recently without a car—it was stolen—she has been hoofing it to school. One Friday evening, two NYPD homicide detectives drop by her office. The good news is that they found her beat-up Volvo; the bad news is that the body of one of the students in her Shakespeare seminar was in the trunk.

Not only are Alison’s chances of getting the car back bleak, but suddenly she’s the primary suspect on a list that includes, among others, the murdered student’s drug-dealing boyfriend, Vince, and the girl’s father’s business rivals (he’s head of an old Italian family . . .).

Accused of a crime that she didn’t commit, Alison enlists her best friend, Max’s, emotional support and services as an amateur sleuth. Their fumbling efforts to clear Alison’s name could land her in even hotter water with Detective Bobby Crawford, the handsome investigating officer (and former altar boy)—not to mention the nuns at St. Thomas. . . .

Maggie Barbieri’s charming professor and down-to-earth detective make an unlikely but lovable team in her delightful debut mystery. (via Goodreads)

My Thoughts:

These are very quick reads – I read them all over the course of a couple of afternoons. They don’t really have any depth or emotional content – but they do settle very nicely into the cozy mystery/romance niche. If you’re a fan of those types of books (think Stephanie Plum) than these are definitely worth taking a look at.

I say they don’t have any emotional depth – but what I mean is that the author doesn’t do a very good job of making you feel the characters. She has to settle for just telling us. Throughout the first book, I read the words describing the increasing romantic feelings between the main characters, Alison and Crawford, but I never felt the chemistry vibes. As the series progressed and I got used to their characters, I appreciated their relationship more. The same goes for all the characters – when they’re introduced in the first book they all feel a little stale or just “on the page” (if that makes sense)…but if you stick with the books you become used to them and it makes the reading much more enjoyable.

One thing the author, without a doubt, does get right is the humor. I absolutely love Alison’s character and the way she interacts with everyone. She is a real piece of work. She transitions throughout the books: she is originally very nervous and weak-minded…but give her a couple of books and there isn’t much she is willing to back down from. But regardless – she is always hilarious.
The mysteries are pretty engaging for the most part. The least enjoyable for me was definitely book three, Quick Study. The best part of the books, for me, is learning more about the characters. Barbieri might not be the most accomplished writer, but even though she isn’t good at bringing emotions to life – she found a way to hook me in anyway! I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where life takes Alison and Crawford next!
So, even though this series doesn’t, by any means, top my favorites list – I think they’re worth reading if you enjoy the genre. For the most part, Barbieri does the mixed bag mystery/romance/humor genre proud!
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