Student Body (An E.J. Pugh Mystery)

Could Graham Pugh really be involved in a murder? E.J. Pugh finds herself back at her old university stomping ground, determined to prove her son is no killer . . . 

Graham Pugh should be having a ball as a first-year student at the University of Texas in Austin. Unfortunately for him, his roommate, Bishop ‘Call Me Bish’ Alexander, is an arrogant asshole he can’t stand, to the point of dreaming of killing him in his sleep. Even more unfortunately for Graham, when he wakes up early one morning for a lecture, he finds that Bishop actually is dead on the floor. 

With Graham the prime suspect, E.J., Willis and the girls race up to Austin immediately. Unsurprisingly, it just so happens that Bishop annoyed a lot of people on campus, not just Graham. But who killed him? E.J. is soon facing a desperate battle to prove her son’s innocence.

I went in excited because I have spent a good chunk of my life traveling but always seem to end up in Texas. I’ve lived or travelled to every part of this state so I often enjoy finding fictional books based in the Lone Star State as it feels easier to connect to characters and the story when I’ve walked the same roads in the same cities they are plus it’s just fun to see these places from a different point of view.

 I didn’t know going in that Susan Rogers Cooper has been writing books since at least the early 90s or that this novel is part of a long series starring the main character who is a romance novelist and amateur detective. It’s like the Texas version of Murder She Wrote; an author keeps stumbling on dead bodies and helps the local law enforcement to solve the case. The required use of “y’all” are sprinkled in the dialogue to ensure readers know you’re in Texas and not Maine.

 I didn’t feel like I was missing out having not read the previous 12 in the series because it’s a pretty straightforward mystery and everything you need to know is encased within this story. This seems to be the first new one in the series for at least 2 years.

 From the viewpoint of getting to experience Austin through a literary version I got exactly what I wanted. It was nice to walk the paths of UT, a college I considered attending once upon a time just so I could understand the fascination with football. But that happy walk down memory lane ended abruptly the more I dug into the story.

 I started off confused in chapter one which is never a good sign. The story begins from a 3rd person perspective, more accurately Graham a college student is describing life at UT and his crappy roommate. Then he wakes up for class and you’re given the impression that he saw something shocking in his dorm roommate. The next paragraph, instead of explaining what could have shocked him though you should be able to figure that out from all the implications, it is now written from a 1st person perspective. Although it should be fairly obvious a new unnamed character has arrived and the scene that is being set is obviously not a college dorm, it’s not until further in you discover this new character is Graham’s mom who has now taken over the story.

 Since I had not read the previous 12 I don’t know if this writing style of switching awkwardly between perspectives is normal or something new the author is trying. I have a definite abhorrence for this writing style when the POV is altered within the chapter because it’s confusing and jarring. I’m a big a believer in you either pick one POV or at least alternate the style from chapter to chapter so there is definitive breaks. This book would have been better served to use Graham’s beginning as a Prologue then let E.J. Pugh take over in Chapter 1. Unfortunately this altering between POV’s continued through the whole book so sometimes you’d get the story from one of the other characters then suddenly the next paragraph you’d discover you’re back to E.J.

 Along with the befuddling POV changes I was hard pressed to find a character I could root for. I always wondered why they never had Jessica Fletcher get married, date or have any serious romantic relationships on Murder She Wrote; I don’t wonder anymore. It’s hard to focus and remain curious about the mystery when you’re constantly wondering if the married amateur detective is actually going to jump into bed with one of the characters in a chapter soon. From the beginning she is characterized as constantly horny and apparently not getting enough at home from her husband. She flirted with the detective over a dead body her son was believed to have murdered so I guess we can assume what turns her on. She’s also pro-weed and was tempted to advise her son to start lighting up to take the edge of a murder investigation off. Her sex needs continued to make themselves known as she made her attraction to her son’s attorney obvious. Has this woman never heard of a vibrator and taking care of the problem yourself if it’s that bad?!

 Graham, the insinuated murderer, apparently dated his foster sister while they were living under the same roof then lied to her about getting back with an ex-girlfriend because he was too chicken to break up with her honorably. He also got drunk and took a fellow drunk college girl’s virginity but since she thought he was cute and he decided to date her then it was ok.

 The freshly divorced detective also makes his horniness known throughout the book. He gets the warm fuzzies from providing comfort to a beautifully distraught sorority girl who flirts back after getting the news her ex-boyfriend was murdered. His need for sex isn’t left at her doorstep, he makes sure others are included in his wet dreams. If his constant state of arousal wasn’t enough you get treated to him threatening to have a ‘witness’ locked up in a mental hospital as irrational because they didn’t want to cooperate. This seems a new low for describing police tactics.

 The whiny husband of E.J. and father of Graham doesn’t seem to have a backbone as he lets his wife run things.

 Chapter 2 starts off with the same POV problem but this time it’s the horny detective before it goes into the E.J.’s 1st. There’s something about her that really grates on my nerves as her dialogue and personality screams “spoiled rich white woman” making it hard to feel for what she’s going through. I’m a mom so I should be able to connect with her on that feeling of being frightened for my child but she just annoys me to the point I could care less what happened to her son. It was getting to the point that even little things like her issue with driving a truck made my pettiness level increase. This story is set in Texas, trucks are as normal a part of life as drinking sweet tea. She says “I took Willis’s pickup – which I hate to drive, but one does what one must.” I think it was more about how she worded that made me roll my eyes, it just sounds so PRETENTIOUS!

 Chapter 3 apparently wanted to hit a new quota for bad as we get to witness one of the most childish and annoying fights ever between parents whose son looks like he’s going down for murder. My elementary school age children have more maturity and common sense than these 2 adults.

 Thankfully the book ended without amateur detective mom committing adultery and realizing she needs a much needed sexcation with hubby, the mystery of who murdered the college kid and why was neatly wrapped up at the far end. Have to admit I was kind of disappointed it wasn’t something cooler as the motivation has been done a million times.

 Part of me wants to go to the beginning of this series and read the early books to see if her writing style and characters have always been like this or it’s something new she’s trying. If I ever run out of other material then that’ll be on my list but I’m so burned out from this one I don’t have it in me to try anytime soon.

 Thank you to Netgalley and Severn House Publishers for allowing me to review this book.

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*synopsis and pic from

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