An Act of Murder, by Debut Author Mary Angela: A Small-Town Professor Turns Sleuth

act_murderBinders, books, backpacks … and murder.

An Act of Murder ($14.95, 236 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-375-4) is the first cozy mystery by debut author Mary Angela in a series featuring English professor Emmeline Prather. After one of her students is found dead in an apparent accident, Professor Prather is convinced he was murdered and seeks out his killer within the confines of their close-knit college community.

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“Debut author Angela introduces a charming amateur sleuth, fun and well read. She so lovingly describes the town of Copper Bluff that readers can feel the breeze and smell the autumn leaves. Cozy enthusiasts who like Joanne Dobson and Sarah R. Shaber will dive into this new series.”

—Viccy Kemp, Library Journal, Sept. 1, 2016

Four Stars: “The most unexpected solution proves to be the right one in this cozy debut by Angela. Set in Copper Bluff, S.D., this novel portrays small-town college life to a tee. Her suspects are varied, but apparent motives are slim as she teases the reader. Em is a force all her own and bodes well for this new series.”

—Donna M. Brown, RT Magazine

Voted BoM by LASR Readers4.5 Stars: “The plot is believable and the supporting characters are fun and have quirky traits all their own. The mystery itself, which provides the core of the plot, constantly keeps the reader guessing [….] A fantastic read and a lot of fun!”  Read more….

—Reviewed by Stargazer for Long and Short Reviews

“In this deftly executed, literate, and literary novel—the first in the Professor Prather mystery series—author Mary Angela introduces us to her delightfully quirky, fiercely intelligent, and immensely likable protagonist, English professor Emmeline Prather, along with an eclectic roster of colorful characters populating the small college town of Copper Bluff, South Dakota. With the help of her charmingly laid-back colleague, Professor Lenny Jenkins, Emmeline applies her keen and rigorous eye for comma splices and split infinitives to a series of clues in the troubling death of her student, Austin Oliver—taking us on a madcap and rivetingly engaging series of plot twists as Emmeline discovers that not only does she have a knack for literature, she also has a knack for solving murders.”

—Lee Ann Roripaugh, South Dakota State Poet Laureate

“An Act of Murder offers a loving description of a quiet, rural campus set amidst natural beauty, gentle, satiric gibes at faculty members who richly deserve it, and the puzzling death of a student. Professor Emmeline Prather is an unlikely detective: young and attractive, a chocoholic and a bit of a klutz, she tries to maintain a relatively low profile. But when she suspects her student has been murdered, she becomes a veritable bulldog, fiercely determined to uncover the perpetrator. Mary Angela’s debut novel maintains the suspense until the last few pages and creates a delightful new character for a series that is certain to entertain. I look forward to accompanying Professor Prather on her next adventure.”

—Susan Wolfe, Professor Emerita of English

An Act of Murder is the first volume in a new mystery series that features amateur sleuth Professor Emmeline Prather. A deftly crafted novel of unexpected twists and surprising turns, An Act of Murder clearly establishes author Mary Angela as an impressively skilled and original storyteller. Certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library Mystery/Suspense collections, An Act of Murder will leave dedicated mystery buffs looking eagerly toward the next Professor Emmeline Prather adventure!”  Read more….

—Margaret Lane for The Midwest Book Review

“The idea that I would distinctly remember characters that make one brief appearance speaks to Angela’s ability to bring the people of An Act of Murder to life. Angela does a fabulous job of creating a college campus that feels so real. The descriptions of buildings, students, off-campus spots are just so perfect…they’ll take every college graduate back to their days on campus…. This is a fun book and ideal for autumn reading.”  Read more….

—Jodi Webb, Building Bookshelves Blog

5 Stars: “An Act of Murder is a well-written and imaginative tale of a teacher whose determination to get to the truth and see justice done for one of her students is right on the money. Mary Angela’s debut novel in this intriguing whodunit series had me glued to every single page, determined to spot any clues to try to solve the mystery of the killer’s identity before the end. With so many people to choose from, I was shocked when all of the evidence pointed to somebody I had not considered a real contender, and I applaud Mary Angela’s technique in presenting such a complex tale. Each of the characters was realistic and engaging, making An Act of Murder a real joy to read.”  Read more….

—Rosie Malezer for Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews

“What a treat it was to read a cozy mystery with such vivid descriptions that place you in the center of the story. There were times I felt like I was sitting in the student hangout and listened in on their conversations. I loved everything about Emmeline, from her directness, attention to details and a never give up attitude[.…] The author really knows how to write with twists that shake up the story with surprise and excellent snippets of intrigue. […] The ending was explosive with secrets that will leave you hanging  on the edge of your seat .”  Read more….

—Texas Book-aholic

“In this first installment of the Professor Prather Mystery series, we are introduced to an enjoyable cast of cozy characters in a delightful setting. Emmeline (Em) Prather is an English professor in Copper Bluff, South Dakota. I absolutely adore Emmeline. She is a perfect cozy sleuth. The setting is just wonderful.”  Read more….

—Brooke Blogs

“There are numerous interesting angles and twists and turns in An Act of Murder that make it a most enjoyable read.”  Read more….

—Back Porchervations

“Prather is a sympathetic and entertaining protagonist, and the little college town of Copper Bluff, South Dakota is beautifully drawn. Mary Angela does a wonderful job at portraying small-town academia, and I am looking forward to Emmeline Prather’s next adventure.”  Read more…

—Island Confidential

“Author Mary Angela paints beautiful word pictures of Copper Bluff—the town and the campus. I can clearly picture both of them in my mind…. [She] has created a cast of memorable characters, headed up by the quirky Emmeline Prather the Instigator, and her stalwart sidekick Lenny Jenkins. I love their witty repartee.”  Read more….

—Jane Reads

“Mary Angela has begun her new mystery series with a home run. An Act of Murder is a cozy tale with a fun and well-read heroine, English professor Emmeline Prather. Set in a college town, the swiftly paced plot takes readers through several twists and turns. Professor Prather collects a handful of clues as she pieces together the motive, means, and opportunity to solve a puzzling murder. Her colleague and sidekick Lenny Jenkins is a charming character who may become a love interest in future installments. I look forward to adding Angela’s future books to my list of must-read murder mysteries.”

—Colleen J. Shogan, author of the Washington Whodunit mysteries

“There were so many times I could almost feel the chill of the wind or picture the breeze in the trees against the brick of the old buildings and I love when authors can create that setting for their reader. Author Mary Angela does this beautifully and with the mystery element added to this quaint little town I found myself enjoying every part of this story. Quill says: A wonderful first mystery novel that has me wanting to read more.”

—Kristi Benedict for Feathered Quill Book Reviews

“This series is off to a great start. The mystery is complicated and believable.  The characters are real with plenty of room to evolve. The setting is intriguing with a huge pool of people to draw into future stories. Mary Angela is an author to watch. I am excited about upcoming installments to this story.”  Read more….

—Escape with Dollycas

“Emmeline is this character that you love because she just seems like a real person. I found her quirks and passions to be similar to mine (Hello, France anyone?) which made me feel a friendship with her. In fact, all the characters are this way. You just love many of the professors. The mystery was great, and set up nicely. I found that the book just flowed into the mystery. It held great clues, but twists that kept you guessing.”  Read more….

—Bree Herron, for Bibliophile Reviews

“The story is well written, full of twists and very addictive […]. This was a great read that left me turning the pages, eager to know what was going to happen next.”  Read more….

—LibriAmoriMiei

In the sleepy college town of Copper Bluff, South Dakota, English professor Emmeline Prather is enjoying the start of a new semester. But when one of her students dies working on the fall musical, it disrupts life on the small, quiet campus. Although the police rule the death accidental, Prof. Prather has good reason to suspect foul play.

Unmasking the murderer proves much more challenging than finding dangling participles, so Em recruits fellow English professor Lenny Jenkins for assistance. Together, they comb the campus and vicinity for clues, risking their reputations and possibly their jobs. After an intruder breaks into Em’s house, Lenny advises caution—and perhaps a change of address. Em, on the other hand, is all the more determined to forge ahead, convinced they’re on the brink of an important breakthrough.

Says the author, “When I attended college, I was intrigued by the idea that a separate world, very different from my own, could exist within the borders of a small community. The campus was a gentle place, surrounded by blue sky and farmland, but a serious one, full of ambitious, intelligent people. The contrast was striking to me at the time, and years later, it would become the inspiration for the setting in An Act of Murder.”

Mary Angela teaches English for the University of South Dakota and enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. She lives in South Dakota with her husband and two young daughters. An avid mystery fan, Mary is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I tugged on the door, only to discover that it was locked, a rarity, and rummaged through my jacket pockets for the keys. My satchel came off my shoulder and the keys fell to the ground with a clang. I knelt down and was fumbling for them in the dark when I overheard voices. Abruptly, I froze. I was in an awkward position; it appeared that I had knelt down beside the car to eavesdrop. I couldn’t stand up now. Instead, I studied my shoe and pretended to tie it, despite the fact that it was a high heel with no laces.

I could not see the individuals—they were on the other side of the car—but the voices were male and female, and the two seemed to be quarrelling. Her voice was quiet but insistent. His was easier to hear only because it was deeper.

“I don’t want to wait. Why can’t you tell him now?” he asked.

They had to be students—impetuous souls. I felt somewhat relieved knowing that if I were detected, it would not be by seasoned faculty members. I had done enough tonight to create a burgeoning divide between my new colleague and me.

“I said I can’t,” she insisted. “He’s not ready.”

He was agitated; I could tell by the pacing of his footsteps. “You promised you’d tell him before classes start.”

Was I overhearing a lover’s spat? If so, it was a bit scant on the love. I detected nothing but bitterness between these two individuals.

“Look,” he said, “if you’re not going to tell him, I will.”

This declaration was met with absolute silence, and I didn’t dare take a breath.

“No, you won’t,” she finally said, growling out each word.

“Oh yeah? And who’s going to stop me? You?” He laughed, but I could tell he was nervous.

“Yeah, me. I could make your life a living hell, and you know it.”

I was so shaken by the turn of the conversation, I fumbled my keys, and the pair became quiet. I debated whether or not to stand up and confront them. My teacherly instinct said something was amiss, but I worried my actions would be unwelcome—especially for the boy. I knew how sensitive male students at this age could be about their egos.

“Come on,” she said, her voice turning softer, “let’s go.”

“No,” he said. “Forget it.”

First I heard heavy footsteps leave the parking lot, growing softer, then silent as they reached the grass. Moments later, lighter footsteps started off in another direction.

A sick feeling settled in the bottom of my stomach as I quietly unlocked my car. I slid into the seat and shut the door. What had just happened? I replayed the brief conversation in my head several times, each version growing more sinister. I surveyed the parking lot, but there was no one in sight. I turned the key, and the engine rumbled to a start. I quickly drove the one block to my house, the sick feeling never leaving my stomach.

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