Book Review: The Campus Murders

Released in 1969, the Campus Murders by Ellery Queen introduced Micah McCall. The premise is an intriguing one. McCall is a Special Assistant to the Governor of an unnamed state who is called in to act as a troubleshooter.

In this case, he’s looking into the disappearance of the daughter of one of the Governor’s intra-party political rivals on a small campus, troubled by unrest. His status is a nice feature. He’s not a policeman, but his standing as “the Governor’s Man,” gets grudging cooperation from the police.

McCall finds himself not particularly trusted by the police and being over thirty, he is not welcomed and not fully trusted by most of the radical college students attending the college.

On the positive side, the mystery isn’t bad, and if you want a taste of the 1960s and how the problems on campus were viewed, this book certainly gives a perspective and captures the spirit of the time. There’s nothing more 1960s in the book than Nature’s Children, a group of college students who demonstrate while wearing grotesque masks in the buff and haze McCall.

On the negative side, the book drags at times, particularly before the first murder in the book. It is so focused on the campus issues and getting all these various student perspectives that it really has troubling remembering that it’s a mystery. And when it comes to the big issues of the day, it offers a simple pat solution that minimizes the complexity of the issues it’s addressing. McCall’s characterization doesn’t age well, particularly when it comes to women, but even by the standards of the time, it’s hard to see his behavior as anything but boorish and shallow.

Otherwise, it’s not horrendous but neither is it compelling. It’s a fairly competent book, but it left me completely uninterested in further installments in the series.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0

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