Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Goddess Fish Virtual Book Tour & Giveaway for the Maggie Ryan Mystery Series by P.M. Carlson

Welcome to my stop on the Maggie Ryan Mystery Series Virtual Book Tour, presented by Goddess Fish Promotions.  Today's post will feature Murder is Academic, the second book in the series.  Please leave a comment or question for author P.M. Carlson to let her know you stopped by.  You can enter her tour wide giveaway by filling out the Rafflecopter form below.  You can also follow the rest of her tour here, the more stops you visit, the better your odds of winning.

Me: Did the Vietnam war affect people like your characters differently from the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
PM:  Two things seem to me to be especially important in the effect of the Vietnam war.  First was the universal draft.  Every young male drew a number, and had to show up when it was called.  There were exemptions, for men with disabilities, for college students (until they graduated), for national guard members, etc.  But any young man of that age, and all his friends and family, knew that he could be sent to fight.  So the war was much more immediate to many more Americans than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Today, with an all-volunteer military, the friends and family of active-duty US soldiers are not spread through the population, especially since the need for more troops is now met only partly by new recruits.  It’s also met met by many soldiers who had expected to go home at the end of their tour, and are forced to stay for another one, or two, or more.
          The other big difference was television.  In the sixties and seventies most Americans had TVs, but there were only three important channels, not the hundreds available now.  So when the nightly news came on, the choice was NBC, ABC, CBS, or PBS, and the newscasters saw their jobs as straightforward reporters of facts, not of political opinions.  War reporters were not embedded in US military units, and were free to investigate whatever they thought needed investigating. 
          Of course the full experience of war, the horror and heroism and fear and friendships and betrayals, is impossible to boil down to a few minutes in a newscast in any era    But at least families in the US could see every night that people–– including Americans they might know–– were suffering and dying in Vietnam.  Today’s TV audiences can insulate themselves from what’s happening on the ground.
Me:  Are civil rights movements reflected in the Maggie books?

PM:  Most civil rights movements take place over many decades, but the sixties and seventies were especially active.  Even in the protected atmosphere of universities, the stresses of the times invaded lives.  Male students had draft lottery numbers, and had to keep up their grades or they’d be drafted.  Women struggled to reach tenure.  Gays were closeted or threatened.  Blacks fought to have their achievements recognized and their culture understood.  Rape victims were disbelieved and blamed by police and even by friends.  Veterans with post-traumatic stress had to find their own way out.
          All of these problems, and more, are reflected in the Maggie books, because it’s dishonest to write about those days without acknowledging the struggles.  And people felt that getting their problems recognized was a step in the right direction.  In the books, the characters are involved in very personal ways. 
Me:  Maggie deals with many scientists in the mysteries.  How has science changed?
PM:  In addition to the obvious answer, that almost all fields of science have advanced dramatically, there is the strange situation that in the US, at least, scientific work has become politicized.  In Maggie’s day, the dark side of new technology such as nuclear power plants was recognized and fought over, there were some people who believed that evolution was anti-religious, anti-vivisectionists fought against the use of laboratory animals, but science itself was generally respected by most Americans.  Medical advances were celebrated and there was national jubilation when the US landed a man on the moon.
Me:  Why did you decide to write a Vietnam-era series featuring a statistician and an actor?
PM:  I didn’t, not consciously.  I decided to write a mystery with a detective who was a working mom, like me.  In traditional mysteries, the majority of famous detectives were loners-- Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Nero Wolfe.  Mothers were minor characters who begged the hero not to take risks, if they existed at all.  Even Nancy Drew had no mother, just an indulgent dad.  But even though I was a working mom, I was definitely against crime, and it was fun to think about having adventures.  So I decided my detective would be a working mom, and that I’d begin writing about her when she was still in school, turning into a mother who could juggle work and family and crime-fighting.
          I set the early books at universities in the Vietnam era because I knew that scene so well.  Selecting a field of study for Maggie took some thought.  I’d worked in several areas that Maggie could have gone into.  As a character, she chose statistics because, in the first book, she has a very painful emotional experience and wants to get away from literature and theatre to lick her wounds.  To me as a writer, the advantage of her choice of statistics was that it got her involved with a variety of projects in the sciences and social sciences.
          Although my degrees are in linguistics and experimental psychology, I loved reading and volunteering for campus shows.  Eventually I married an actor/director/professor of theatre.  It seemed to me that Maggie also would like having a life that included theatre and family and an interesting outside job.
          I haven’t done much active crime-fighting, myself.  But Maggie’s taller and more athletic, so I figured she could handle it.

Murder is Academic (Maggie Ryan 1968)
By P.M. Carlson
Maggie Ryan and Nick O’Connor, Book 2

Publisher: The Mystery Company
Release Date: September 28, 2012
Genre: Mystery
Length: 196 Pages
ISBN:  978-1932325232

Buy Links:  Amazon |B&N| The Mystery Company

About the book: 

Vietnam, assassinations and riots. In the spring semester of 1968, a series of brutal attacks draws campus women together to study self-defense and the psychology of rape. Graduate student Mary Beth Nelson struggles to keep the Lords of Death at bay by immersing herself in researching Mayan languages. Her new housemate, Maggie Ryan, has her own secrets. When murder strikes close to home, Maggie investigates with a little help from her friends.

MURDER IS ACADEMIC (Maggie Ryan 1968)
An Anthony Award nominee

Near an upstate New York University, June 1968.

          She was dead now, no more threat.  The murderer pushed aside the long dark hair and, very carefully, cut the triangle into the young cheek.  Done.  Now, walk to the car calmly, get in.  Back to the highway, driving coolly,  back in control again.

          The Christian conquerors teach that days don’t begin until midnight.  The Maya know that it takes longer to hand over the burdens of time, and that the influence of the incoming god may begin at sunset.  The day known as Monday, June 17, to those who count by the Gregorian calendar was pleasantly breezy, as befitted the Ixil 9 Iiq; but shortly after sunset it became one of the most tragic of Mary Beth’s life.  A Mayan traditionalist might have attributed the change to the coming of that doubly unlucky day, 10 Aqbal.

          But it had all begun quite cheerfully.

          Maggie had borrowed Sue’s backpack in case Nick needed one for the picnic, and had packed her own and Mary Beth’s with the camp stove and the food.  She hummed lightheartedly as she worked.

          “You’re happy to see him, aren’t you?” Mary Beth had said, tightening the top of the salad dressing jar.

          “Yes, but that’s only part of it,” Maggie had confessed.  “It’s just good to know that’s behind me.  It was a very bad time, and Nick was there.  But I can see him now and just enjoy the friendship.  The bad memories are there, way in the background, but the good ones are too.  It doesn’t hurt anymore.  It hurt quite a lot for a while.”


P.M. Carlson taught psychology and statistics at Cornell University before deciding that mystery writing was more fun.  She has published twelve mystery novels and over a dozen short stories. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Award, a Macavity Award, and twice for Anthony Awards. Two short stories were finalists for Agatha Awards. She edited the Mystery Writers Annual for Mystery Writers of America for several years, and served as president of Sisters in Crime.

Author Website  

Publisher Website:  



  1. Mysteries are captivating for the intrigue, suspense and the thrilling plot which continues until the climax. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

    1. I agree-- that's how mysteries first captivated me! The ones I like best have characters I can identify with, so it heightens the suspense when they're threatened. I try to write mysteries like that, with people struggling to achieve goals and find a balance between love and independence, and then a murderer appears and disrupts everything!

  2. What I like best about mysteries is trying to guess who the bad guy is before the book reveals it.

    1. Yes, Anita, I like the intellectual puzzle too. Your mind as well as your emotions are engaged by a good mystery!

  3. I like all the choices of 'whodunnit', & then the twist & surprise at the end!!!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

    1. Right! In MURDER IS ACADEMIC and the other Maggie Ryan stories, people seem to like the complex characters who have good reasons to get rid of someone. Is the killer a bird lover who is desperate for tenure? A professor annoyed by Maggie's pranks, who keeps knives under his bed? A handsome graduate student who feels betrayed by Maggie? And on and on . . .

  4. Thanks for hosting the Maggie Ryan series this week!

  5. Enjoyed the mystery implied in this excerpt. Sounds awesome.

    1. Thanks, MomJane. A lot of the story is told from the point of view of Maggie's friend Mary Beth, so I was able to explore the importance of friendship and humor when dealing with BIG problems like the ones people were facing in 1968! Also, Mary Beth was a student of the Maya, so I was able to introduce some spooky calendar interpretations into a very rational academic setting.

  6. I love the suspense of it and trying to guess whats going to come next :D

    1. Yes, Joelle! Thriller mysteries keep the suspense high even when you know who the murderer is. Fair-play puzzle mysteries don't reveal the murderer until the end, but readers know they have all the necessary clues, if they can just figure out what they are. I try to include both puzzle AND suspense in books like MURDER IS ACADEMIC!

  7. Thanks to all who commented, and thanks for hosting this stop on the Maggie Ryan Mysteries virtual tour!

  8. Trying to figure out who did it before the end.

    1. That gets me involved too, when I'm reading a mystery and telling the detective "No! Don't trust that guy!" But it's also fun when the plot tricks me.

  9. I've read Murder is Academic and highly recommend it. Look forward to reading the other books in the series.

    1. Thanks, Frances. It's wonderful to get a recommendation from a terrific writer like you! Your Kate Shackleton mysteries are set a little earlier, in the times just after WWI. But like Maggie Ryan in the Vietnam era, Kate has to deal with people stressed by war as well as by crime. Very interesting times to visit!