Friday, 16 June 2017

Past Tense by Margot Kinberg, 2016

Kramer walked slowly in the direction Stephens had indicated. Then he stopped short. His face drained of colour and he gulped twice. He could see it clearly — a bone sticking up out of the dirt he’d been preparing to move.

It’s not often that the principal character in a work of fiction takes a backseat and allows the secondary players to lead from the front. In Past Tense, Joel Williams, the affable and self-effacing policeman-turned-academician, does just that and still walks away with honours. But then, he's the hero of the novel.

The professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tilton, a fictional university in Pennsylvania, hasn’t lost his detective streak as he quietly investigates an old case buried by time and dirt. Construction workers on the campus are stunned when they dig up bones identified as those of Bryan Roades, a 20-year-old student who went missing four decades ago.

As coffee-drinking Tilton police detectives Donna Crandall and her partner Ron Zuniga work on the case with a steadfast resolve, Williams makes his own inquiries into the suspected murder of Roades. Along the way he cooperates with the cops, passing on useful leads that could help solve the riddle—who killed Roades, and why?

Investigations lead the campus sleuth and police detectives to people Roades was associated with 40 years ago. Inspired by journalists Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame, Roades was relentlessly pursuing a story on the women’s liberation movement for The Real Story, the Tilton University newspaper. He was trying to interview professors and fellow-students, including women, who were reluctant to talk to him because they didn't want their personal lives and secrets exposed. His fanatical zeal evidently cost him his life.  

The discovery of his remains opens a Pandora’s box, as those who knew Roades back then find themselves in the crosshairs of the investigation. As Williams and the police detectives inch closer to the truth, one of his old women acquaintances is found dead. And suddenly we have two murders, past and present.

Past Tense, the third in Margot Kinberg’s Joel Williams series, is a fine blend of police procedural and campus mystery.

Though Joel Williams greets us from page one, he gets into the thick of the mystery much later. Until then, he reads about it in the Tilton Sentinel over a cup of coffee. I found his character interesting: I don’t think I have read any mystery where a detective or private investigator keeps a low profile and solves the case from the sidelines; in fact, almost as a spectator, it’d seem. However, it’s clear from the start that his interest in the Bryan Roades case is genuine and it has more to do with his previous job as a cop and his passion for solving mysteries, than winning accolades and fans.

The narrative swings back and forth, offering a glimpse into the character of Roades and his relations with people we are familiar with in the present. There are few descriptions and plenty of dialogue, the way I like most fiction. The pace is easy, almost leisurely, but the author keeps the momentum going throughout the course of the 421-page generously-spaced novel. If you’re familiar with writer and blogger Margot Kinberg’s prolific crime-fiction blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist..., you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Past Tense is engaging and entertaining, and the author, I assume, brings her vast experience as an academician to bear on this campus mystery of a high order. You won't be disappointed.


P.S.: Special thanks to Margot for sending me a signed copy of the book.


Other Reviews of Past Tense

Bitter Tea and Mystery
Clothes in Books
Reactions to Reading
Crimepieces
FictionFan's Book Reviews



16 comments:

  1. Thank you so much, Prashant. Your kind words mean a lot to me, and I'm so glad you enjoyed the novel.

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    1. You're most welcome, Margot. The review was long overdue. I really liked Joel Williams' character.

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  2. Thank you for this review. Its been ages since I've seen you in the blogging world!

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    1. Mystica, I took a longish break from blogging owing to both personal and official commitments. I hope to blog more often now — crossing fingers.

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  3. That is a lovely review, Prashant. Thanks for linking to my post. It is good to see you back here.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy. And you're welcome. I missed blogging but, hopefully, I'll find my rhythm again.

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  4. Nice to see such a lovely review of Margot's book! And thank you for the link.

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    1. Thank you, FictionFan, you're most welcome. It was a good book.

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  5. Good to see you back Prashant, and what a great choice for your explosive return entry! Margot's is a really good book, and yours is a really good review...

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    1. It's good to be back, Moira. Thank you for the kind words. I enjoyed PAST TENSE. I found the storyline focused and the characters likeable.

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  6. Great review Prashant - I'll have to bump it up the pile!

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  7. Glad you're back blogging...and with a great review of Margot's latest!

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    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. I missed writing on the blog, and visiting other blogs as well. I intend to blog to a doable plan, a few posts every month to start with.

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  8. I am of course very envious that you got a signed copy - which reminds me, I really should post a review of Margot's book. Great post Prashant - and what great way to come back to blogging :)

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    1. Thank you, Sergio. It feels great to be back. I won the signed copy in a contest Margot hosted on her blog. Guess I got lucky!

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