Book Review – Mood Swings To Murder

 Here is another book review by Carl Brookins.

Mood Swings To Murder
Author: Jane Isenberg
Publisher: Avon Books, PBO
December 2000
ISBN: 0-380-80282-1

This is the third book in a series about an English teacher in the New Jersey college system. Bel Barrett teaches for a community college in Hoboken, a great platform for a variety of stories, because she’ll encounter older students, some with families, and some with jobs, situations that can give rise to problems not usually encountered by more traditional, full-time students.

The previous books are “The M Word” and “Death in a Hot Flash.”   Jane Isenberg, is a veteran urban college teacher and she writes with authority, wit, and a sure sense of her environment. She also understands the processes of female aging. Her protagonist is Bel Barrett who finds it impossible to ignore student problems outside the classroom, and who also spends a lot of energy worrying about her two grown children.

She is abetted by two women who seem to have more time on their hands to deal with Bel’s murder cases than is usual. One is a fiery private investigator, which solves one continuing problems for any amateur sleuth, that of access to various agency records and actions. The two friends provide Bel, who has a pretty full schedule, with assistance and reassurances. Bel has a pregnant daughter in Seattle and a son on the East Coast, both of whom seem to be less than fully settled–in their mother’s view, anyway, and the two women offer a level of sanity and judicious advice.

This story has an unusual plot line. It concerns the murder of a Frank Sinatra impersonator, one of several who seem to litter the Hoboken landscape. Bel, her friends and other hangers on, including Bel’s mother, are swept up in Bel’s attempt to figure out who killed Louie Palumbo and why. One of Isenberg’s strengths is the clever and logical ways she involves Bel in murder investigations. In this case, she and lover Sol, out for a romantic stroll literally stumble across the body.

Two sub-plots are nicely handled. Bel’s relationships with her sometimes-live-in son and her now pregnant daughter have no bearing on the main plot but they do add dimension and reality to the characters. All in all, in spite of an abundance of angst and soul-searching in place of action and suspense, this is another worthy outing, an American cozy with a little bit of bite mixed with mystery and eccentricity.

Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

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