Ann Waldron’s career as a journalist and long association with Princeton has helped her create a remarkable mystery series surrounding McLeod Dulaney, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist who teaches at Princeton University. The Dulaney series bears some resemblance to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series. However, Dulaney is a harder, tougher version of Miss Marple, partly because of her training as a reporter, and the series departs from the conventions of the cozy mystery in that Dulaney’s work, in her unabashed but sometimes clumsy quest to learn the truth about crime, is not always superior to that of Lieutenant Nick Perry. Dulaney can be fooled, be seriously misled, and in one case be downright wrong about the perpetrator of a murder. However, even when she does not solve the crime—and she sometimes puts herself in harm’s way because she does not realize who the real murderer is—she creates the conditions that make it possible to solve the murder cases. Dulaney’s law-enforcement partner, Nick Perry, seems credible not only as a detective but also as a person with whom Waldron is deeply familiar, probably because the author learned a good deal from talking to police officers while she was a reporter and later in life. Waldron’s Princeton experience is most visible in her large cast of supporting characters, including a writer-in-residence, a university president, professors from various departments, members of the press, and the staff (principally women) who keep the departments running smoothly.
Waldron’s personal history is apparent in southerner Dulaney’s acute observations on the northern climate and mentality. Another element brought into the novels from Waldron’s personal life is her obvious relish for good meals. One of her editors suggested that she append to each novel recipes of the dishes in the meals that Dulaney prepares. These are all dishes, tried and true, that Waldron has made herself. In sum, Waldron has created a series of novels that provide both a cultural and a culinary delight while creating precise evocations of characters and locales that harbor unsuspected opportunities for murder.
The Princeton Murders
The first novel in the McLeod Dulaney series, The Princeton Murders, has Ann Waldron’s amateur sleuth/journalist teaching her first writing course as a visiting professor. New to academia, Dulaney finds the array of characters: a radical feminist, a prickly pan-African studies scholar, a Marxist, a queer theorist—just to mention a few of the memorable members of the supporting cast—almost stupefying in their feuding and preening behaviors. When does eccentricity lead to murder? she wonders. There is no shortage of suspects when Professor Archibald Alexander is found dead, and Dulaney (to the consternation of her academic colleagues) resists the notion that his demise is the result of natural causes.
Waldron makes clear at the beginning of this novel that this is not a roman à clef; that is, she has not created characters who are only thinly disguised versions of real people. Instead, she has exploited the Princeton setting itself, the institution’s pride in its probity and high standards, to introduce events that challenge the community’s belief in its own rectitude. Certainly the world of academic politics is exposed in this novel, but not in a malicious way. Dulaney is bemused with the quirky professors and even develops a certain affection for them. She loves the Princeton milieu, which is palpably evoked in descriptions of restaurants, university buildings, and environs.
In Waldron’s mystery series, one murder always begets another, a pattern that is introduced in The Princeton Murders.
Death of a Princeton President
When the president of Princeton goes missing in Death of a Princeton President, no one expects foul...
(The entire section is 1600 words.)