Here's a good light read from a Christian publisher, the first in a series of mystery stories. Publish & Perish is set in 1960 at Alderton University, a fictional institution of higher learning in the Midwest. The protagonist is Ben Reese, a shot-up WWII hero, now university archivist. The logic, discipline, and detail of his field make him a natural amateur detective. At the same time, his suffering in war and as a widower (not to mention his 1947 Plymouth) bring him to life as a sympathetic character. The plot develops around the sudden death of a colleague, English professor Richard West, an irascible, opinionated, but loveable conservative.
Whodunit? Suspects abound. Prof. West's socialist secretary hated him, as did a former student he once flunked. Then there's the bitter professor Mr. West beat out for the department chairmanship. And more! Oh, yes, and what about that strange package Mr. West received by mail on the day of his death?
Ms. Wright writes well. The plot unfolds smoothly, scene by scene, with rising dramatic tension. She excels at description, such as that of the woman whose "thin, dyed, damaged hair was standing in a circle around her head a little like a dandelion that's gone to seed." Dialogue is crisp and consistent with the well-drawn characters; college profs who've known each other for years have very interesting conversations: "Is the elephant discommoded by the wayward flea? No. And I didn't let Dr. French provoke me." The action sequences-one in a snowstorm and another in a darkened gymnasium-are really exciting. Plus, there's not one expletive in the whole book.
As a straight-ahead mystery story, Publish & Perish works well. But Ms. Wright attempts to rise above the genre and deal with serious themes, such as the university-centered attack on Christian western civilization. She touches on it here and there but never succeeds in developing the theme. Science fiction too is a genre, but C.S. Lewis uses it to explore fully this same issue in That Hideous Strength. Ms. Wright rightly senses that a Christian writer should both entertain and instruct. But she needn't worry. The mystery genre is moral in itself, for in it that which was hidden is made plain, justice is achieved, and events often turn on a simple dispensation of grace.