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Fictional crime on campus

Paul Greatrix reviews a crime thriller set in an English University.
This article is more than 5 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

I’m pleased to be able to offer a brief Registrarism book review of a newish crime thriller set mainly in a university English department with a precariously employed academic as lead. Involving the Russian mafia, significant workplace sexual harassment and plenty of plot twists.

This is not your typical campus novel:

What if a single 29 second phonecall could change your life forever? ‘Give me one name. One person. And I will make them disappear . . .’

When Sarah rescues a young girl in trouble, she expects nothing in return. But her act of bravery puts a powerful and dangerous man in her debt. He lives by his own brutal code, and all debts must be repaid – in the only way he knows how.

He offers Sarah a way to solve a desperate situation with her intolerable boss. A once-in-a-lifetime deal that will make all her problems disappear.

No consequences. No comeback. No chance of being found out.

All it takes is a 29 second phone call.


I’m not certain everyone does have a name to give but then we can’t all feature in crime thrillers, can we? Anyway, given that the author is an ex-Deputy Director of External Relations at a prominent East Midlands university and a former colleague, I think we can understand why there is quite a bit of higher ed context in here.

The campus setting for the book at a fictional London institution, Queen Anne University, makes an interesting backdrop for some of the action. There are some entertaining and less pleasant stereotypes in here from the archetypal frosty departmental secretary to the hideously nasty and overbearing sexual predator of a professorial head of department.

The challenge of using a university setting is that for those readers who don’t work in HE there is a need to offer something of an explanation of the different roles which crop up. I particularly enjoyed the following references therefore including this one about the VC:

The Vice Chancellor was the most important man on campus, the head of the whole university, and Lovelock would not have missed a meeting with him unless he was – unless he was what? Deep down, she knew that this was it – this was the real deal. He was gone.

And Sarah, the junior academic and central character, quite realistically has only a passing knowledge of her university’s executives:

Sarah recognised him vaguely from stories on the university’s internal news service – a pro-vice chancellor, one of six who sat at the university’s top table, the Executive Management Board. Peter Moran, the school manager, and a handful of others followed close behind. All of them wore harried, tight expressions.

There is also a helpful explanation of the hidden workings of the Promotions Committee and this delightful description of one particular member of the Promotions Committee and his views of professional services staff:

His obnoxiousness was legendary and he was particularly fond of telling administrative staff how they were merely low-level functionaries feeding off the university’s scholarly body.

Nice. But my favourite observation of campus life is this:

‘How do you know about the car being found?’ Sarah said.
Carver shrugged. ‘My sister-in-law’s a secretary in the registrar’s office, which is about as secure as a leaky sieve. It’s all kicking off up there, apparently, the usual headless-chickens routine. Hence the meeting here with a pro-vice chancellor and all those managers.’

Outrageous and could not be further from the truth – but this is, of course, fiction.

Finally, and most realistically, I am pleased to note that car parking challenges form an important part of the narrative here. I should also add that, fortunately, there was no actual appearance by the Registrar in the book. Unlikely perhaps, but nevertheless a relief for many.

So very well worth a read if you like this kind of thing and is available on Amazon at a very reasonable price.

If you prefer your campus-based crime tales to be drawn from real events then obviously you need to get yourself a copy of Wonkhe’s very own True Crime on Campus.

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