Book 3 in the Agatha Award-Winning Series
St. Michael's College, Cambridge, is prestigious, stately-and in frightful disrepair. To replenish its dwindling coffers, the College's Master holds a fundraising weekend for wealthy alums. But all goes awry when the glamorousand despisedLexy Laurant is found strangled on the grounds. There's a lengthy list of likely suspects: Lexy's debt-ridden Latino lover, her titled ex-husband who left her for another woman, and a garrulous oil-rich Texan with something to hide, among others. As Detective Chief Inspector St. Just weighs clashing egos, he discovers unsavory secrets...and a most shocking twist.
"This third in the series is every bit as good as its predecessors. Longtime cozy fans will be reminded of Golden Age classics starring Dorothy Sayers' Harriet Vane and Edmund Crispin's Gervase Fen."Booklist (starred review)
"G.M. Malliet presents a meticulous novel with sophistication and uncomplicated restraint. She keeps mystery fans guessing without thrusting overwhelming or unnecessary detail into her well-researched scenes."ForeWord
"Fans of Dorothy Sayers's novels and other Golden Age British mysteries will enjoy this contemporary salute, which even includes the traditional gathering of suspects at the end when the detective reveals all."Library Journal
"A witty third cozy."Publishers Weekly
"It certainly shouldn't be missed."Reviewing the Evidence
About the Author
G. M. Malliet's first St. Just mystery won the 2008 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, and was chosen byKirkus Reviews as a best book of the year. It was nominated for several awards, including the Anthony, the Macavity and a Lefty Award for best police procedural. Her series from Minotaur featuring a former MI5 Agent turned vicar of a small English village debuted in Autumn of 2011. Of the fourth book in the series, Cleveland.com raved: "[Malliet] may be the best mystery author writing in English at the moment (along with Tana French). She's certainly the most entertaining." She attended graduate school in Cambridge and Oxford; she and her husband travel frequently to the UK, the setting for her books.Weycombe is her first book of dark suspense. You can visit her at www.GMMalliet.com.
Read an Excerpt
DEATH at the Alma Mater
By G. M. Malliet
Midnight InkCopyright © 2010 G. M. Malliet
All right reserved.
Chapter OneALMA MATER
Founded around the time King Henry VIII was selling off "his" monasteries, St. Michael's College of the University of Cambridge spreads in haphazard fashion by the River Cam, a model of functional medieval architecture wedded to Tudor bombast and, later, Victorian excess.
The University itself, of which the college is a part, was formed by a group of tearaway scholars escaping the wrath of the townspeople of Oxford, where clashes had ended with two students being hanged for murder, which incident should have given everyone in Cambridge pause. But by this time-the early 1200s-the inhabitants of Cambridge had survived the Romans, the Saxons, the Vikings, and the Normans, and, perhaps numbed into apathy at the sight of yet more new arrivals, rashly allowed the fledgling seat of learning to take hold.
St. Mike's, as it is inevitably called, is one of the lesser-known of thirty-two Cambridge colleges-a former Master liked to insist it was as well known as Trinity, which is like saying Marks and Spencer is as well known as Harrods-and it has never, even from its earliest days, been among the wealthiest of colleges. Indeed, it has more than once in its long history flirted with financial disaster. One early benefactor, having promised the college a substantial legacy, on the strength of which promise the college incurred various debts, was found on his death to be worth only u23. There were many other such incidents as the college slumbered its way through the centuries, betraying either a touching naiveté or a rampant incompetence on the part of those entrusted with St. Mike's care.
The college was, however, given a boost in early Victorian times by an infusion of funds from the will of a wealthy owner of smoke-belching smokestacks in the Midlands. A painting of this scowling, mutton-chopped benefactor hangs, like an old-fashioned ad for castor oil, in pride of place in the Hall-one of the conditions of his bequest. But this benefactor's funds, too, had long since gone to repair the crumbling brick and clunch of the chapel, and by the late 1980s exuberant but doubtful investments in the stock market and offshore hedge funds had shrunk the college's coffers still further. The stone walls, chipped in places and worn to a gloss in others, continued to flake and wear like a favored old coffee mug, and the college remained a constant source of anxiety for the Bursar and others in whose care she was entrusted. (Although named for a male saint, St. Michael's is female, as are all the colleges, and a high-maintenance female, at that.)
So it was that as the twentieth century neared a close, the then-Master decreed "Something Must Be Done," and the answer came back from the Senior Combination Room, as it had done since time immemorial: "Let's hit up the old members for donations."
Something resembling energy infused the normally antebellum spirit of the SCR. Brochures were produced on one of the college's antique computers, and pleas personally signed by the Master were mailed out by the hundreds. This campaign met with little success (a thunderous silence, in fact), so much so that the suggestion of one wag-that the fundraising brochure be illustrated by a photo of a starving student holding a tin cup-was taken under serious consideration for as long as two weeks. Finally another idea was broached: Why not tempt graduates back to the college during the summer for a St. Mike's Open Weekend? The initial thought was that college members of specific years of matriculation would be invited, but over time it became the custom to carefully screen the guest list to include only the most successful-in monetary terms, that is-graduates. (One weekend in 1991 creative artists spawned by St. Mike's were invited, an experiment that was never to be repeated, as the artists proved not only to be living in less-than-genteel poverty, but to have accepted the invitation in the hope of being offered stipended Fellowships. They ended up alleviating their disappointment by making chip shots on the college's manicured lawns and dressing the statue of the College's Founder in women's undergarments. One specialist in "Found Art" left behind in his room a large tortoise. The hysterical bedder who discovered it was instrumental in instituting the ban on artists' weekends at St. Mike's. A specialist in tortoise biology easily being located-this was Cambridge, after all-the tortoise was duly adopted and lived to a ripe age somewhere in the region of North Piddle.)
The Bursar was generally assigned the task of combing through the lists of members who, for good or ill, had made their mark on the world, and had been well compensated for the marking up. He gradually began to notice that 1988 had been a bonanza year for such luminaries at the college-that over the course of the past twenty or so years, several of the members who had matriculated or were in some way attached to the college in that year had achieved success and, more to the Bursar's purposes, accumulated great wealth. It seems 1988 was one of those times, not unlike the Renaissance, perhaps, when the world burst with new ideas and energy before subsiding once more into its habitual indolence. In any event, the Bursar soon had a short list of worthies-the Master had asked that the gatherings be kept to under ten members, since spouses and guests were also encouraged to attend-and the college Fellows were duly summoned to hear the announcement concerning the upcoming festivities, to which most of them would not be invited.
("Good Lord, the idea is to get the old members to donate, not to revive any horrid lingering memories they may be harboring of the place," the Master had been heard to say. "No, the Fellows must be told in no uncertain terms: They are to stay away from the visitors unless instructed otherwise.")
Over the years, a regular program had evolved to keep the targeted visitors suitably entertained. They would be invited to partake of a dinner on a Friday and a special buffet lunch in the Master's Lodge on a Saturday, with a tea that afternoon and a Choral Evensong followed by a formal dinner in Hall, watched over by the portraits of the colleges' Masters down through the years (portraits which had gotten bigger and bigger in an unspoken competition for Most Beloved and Important, so that the march of centuries, if not progress, was easy to trace). On Sunday would be a Sung Eucharist in the Chapel. As a special treat, the Library and College Gardens would be flung open, with lectures offered by the College Archivist and the Head Gardener, and an exhibition of College Silver would be mounted in the Senior Combination Room. An added highlight-a veritable pièce de résistance-was a tour of select student rooms, all carefully purged beforehand of traces of graffiti, scraps of unwashed clothing, seminal Marxist tracts, and empty liquor bottles.
In short, it always promised to be a weekend of the most stupendous dullness for any but the most steadfast and loyal alumnus or alumna, but in fact it proved over the years a surprisingly popular and successful venture, especially among the Americans, especially once a tasting of the College wines was added to the program. The Secretary of the College Wine Committee, an attractive man with a gift for smooth repartee, was on hand to answer questions on these occasions, where cases of College port and sherry were offered for sale, with free shipping thrown in for the Americans.
If all went according to plan, purse strings (and tongues) would be loosened, and the coffers of St. Mike's would once more fill to overflowing.
This, in any event, was the plan, a plan that had been successful, in varying degrees, for many long years. It has since been largely agreed that no one could have foretold the calamitous events which took place during the particular reunion that is the subject of this story.
No one, after all, had ever suggested that the alumni of St. Mike's be invited back for a murder mystery weekend.
Excerpted from DEATH at the Alma Mater by G. M. Malliet Copyright © 2010 by G. M. Malliet. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
A Hive of Activity....................7
The Party's Over....................70
Getting to Know You....................83
Golden Lads and Girls....................112
Golden Lads and Girls: Part II....................121
This Just In....................164
Needles and Haystacks....................171
Stirred and Shaken....................195
All My Bags Are Packed....................209
Making a List....................230
Taken into Account....................258
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Death of a Cozy Writer deservedly won an Agatha, but each book in this series is better than the last! Death at the Alma Mater is my favorite. Memorable characters, surprising plot twists, and the unforgettable Inspector St. Juste. Ms. Malliet's writing is intelligent and thought-provoking...
This Agatha award-winning series only gets better--very funny, beautiful prose. If you haven't discovered this series yet, treat yourself!
I found this book a very pleasant cozy mystery, just like the other 2 in the series. The plot is interesting, not too complicated, but also not extremely obvious either.The book is very readable although, at times, I found the dialog to be a little stilted. I enjoy reading about St Just and Sergeant Fear, although I think there could be less attention paid to St Just's relationship with Portia.
Fictional St. Michael's College at Cambridge would have to move up some to be called second rate. And the place is falling apart. The powers-that-be decide to stage a special weekend for some of its most illustrious (and wealthy) alumni. They're an odd lot ... and make a great suspect list when one of their number is murdered. Detective Chief Inspector Arthur St. Just of the Cambridge constabulary and Sergeant Fear are on the scene ... as is St. Just's lady love, Portia De'Ath, who's working on her thesis AND her latest mystery novel at the college. And this time, she's taking St. Just's advice to stay out of his case, although he relies on her as an unbiased observer to give her insights.Death at the Alma Mater is a straightforward police procedural, very much focused on the crime and its investigation, with cozy elements and a third-person narrator with a dry sense of humor. The way the author introduces the characters up front reminds me of Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand mysteries featuring Annie and Max Darling. And it's hard not to compare Ms. Malliet's books to the Adam Dalglelish mysteries by P.D. James -- especially when the author drops in a few references to that grand old lady of British mystery.But this series is very much the author's own. It's great fun to read, and will satisfy even the most finicky mystery reader. 04/29/2010
Neo classic murder and frankly is not up to lauds as new golden era wannabe sayers borrow as is not a re read perhaps a tad more humor and less angst than the other series