Saturday, December 13, 2014

Professor Turns Sleuth: DEATH IN EDEN, Paul J. Heald

If you "google" the name of Paul Heald, with the word "author" pegged onto it, you'll come up with copyright law, and economics, and connections to the University of Illinois, as well as Oxford, Vanderbilt, and the University of Chicago.

So, what's the professor doing in a mysteries review? Simple. He's taken the maxim "write what you know" and written a mystery of a professor who turns sleuth, under the multiple pressures of the race for tenure, a wife who wants to be pregnant, and an old fraternity buddy in trouble.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Professor Heald has old friends in the "adult film" industry the way his sleuth, Stanley Hopkins, has! (Although I couldn't help noticing the absence of the usual list of thanks to those working in the field ... perhaps to protect the privacy of the guilty?) But Heald certainly knows the forces that operate in university culture, and he's crafted a perfect storm of reasons to press an academic into investigation.

DEATH IN EDEN begins with Prof. Stanley Hopkins's urgent need to find a group of working women who'll provide employment data as a balance for the final chapter of his highly researched book. And when it occurs to him to use his connection with porn producer Donald Johansson -- who wants to craft fine films out of what used to be just sex scenes -- Hopkins realizes he's got not just the right topic to fill out the book, but a hot one that will bring him attention. And oh yes, boost him over the wall into being tenured. It just so happens he has a law degree in his background, so when his buddy Donald is accused of murdering a sex star (and Hopkins is pretty sure the charge can't be right), he goes beyond his original plan for interviews, and digs more deeply into the California porn scene than his wife appreciates.

Soon Hopkins adds a motive of saving his marriage to the others pushing him along. There's really no choice: He's even getting grilled by the police:
"Do you have any idea why Mr. Johansson has been so insistent on seeing you today?"

"No, sire." [Hopkins] normally never called anyone 'sir,' but the detective's demeanor seemed to demand some kind of honorific. "Don's an old friend from college. We just renewed our acquaintance when my wife and I came out to Los Angeles to do an academic study of adult film stars."
Obviously the police aren't quite convinced by that one. Even Hopkins has trouble believing what he's stepped into. It's pretty far from the university office, after all!

This is a first mystery, with plenty of extra scenes and description that can be skimmed -- the pace isn't yet expert in terms of suspense and tension, although I had a lot of fun in several of the scenes. Hopkins is in some ways terribly naive! His wife, not so much ... There are quite a few moments when Heald turns the point of view to one of the women on hand, whether the academic wife or the "adult film" stars, and those are lively and entertaining. Plot twists make good sense, even when they take a while to unfold, and the final actions Hopkins takes to get to the crime's solution spin into a lively finale.

I appreciate the author sending the book for review, and I hope he'll keep writing -- mysteries, that is. If you're collecting Illinois-based mysteries, California film scenarios, or academic action, grab a copy of DEATH IN EDEN. It's fun, it raises great topics to argue (are porn stars really mostly that nice?), and I'm delighted to see the lure of suspense and intrigue, at work on an author of copyright documents and other legal chapters. Go for it, Professor Hopkins -- err, I mean, Professor Heald!

[Published by Yucca Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing; here's a link to the book, but it's also available through the usual other channels, including independent bookstores.]

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