This week kicks off the seventh annual University Press Week, and this year scholarly publishers hope to #TurnItUP by highlighting the "unheard or underrepresented voices, stories, and scholarly areas in the publishing ecosystem." Though one doesn't generally think of university presses first or foremost when one thinks of mystery or crime writing, more and more university presses are putting their great minds to some great murders.
In honor of UPW, Mystery Scene presents here your course syllabus for "University Press Mysteries 101" this year. A full run-down of all UP Week events can be found at www.universitypressweek.org.
Since its founding in Athens, Ohio, in 1964, Ohio University Press (including its trade imprint, Swallow Press) has published books from academic monographs to regional histories to internationally acclaimed literary works, including those of Anaïs Nin. Its currently has two mystery authors on its illustrious roster, Andrew Welsh Huggins and Nancy Tingley.
"One of our missions as a university press is to enrich the cultural community not only of our home institution, but of our town, state, and region," said a spokesperson for the press. "Mystery writers have long woven social issues, observations about identity and place, and insights into subcultures into their stories and series. At Ohio University Press, our authors have situated their stories in place —Ohio Amish Country, Columbus, Ohio, and the Southeast Asian art world—that, through the power of setting, allow their tales of murder and crime to offer keen insight into people’s struggles with the societies in which they live or choose to visit. In this way, our mystery novels serve as terrifically fun complements to our nonfiction offerings, and put us on the map with new and devoted readerships."
The Third Brother: An Andy Hayes Mystery, by Andrew Welsh Huggins. (April 2018)
Fatal Judgment: An Andy Hayes Mystery, by Andrew Welsh-Huggins (April 2019)
A Death in Bali: A Jenna Murphy Mystery, by Nancy Tingley (March 2018)
"Our press has a long history of publishing native voices," said the University of Arizona Press. "We’re committed to presenting nuanced, accurate, and respectful representations of Indigenous life. Authors such as Cherokee author Sara Sue Hoklotubbe and Tom Holm (The Osage Rose, 2008) bring readers into their communities. They use the mystery genre to highlight real issues within these communities, making them visible and engaging to audiences beyond what perhaps traditional monographs might reach."
"I spent 21 years working in the banking business and had very little time for reading," said Hoklotubbe in a UAP interview, "But when I discovered Tony Hillerman’s mysteries, that all changed. I loved how he wrote mysteries and wove in Navajo and Hopi culture. Even though Tony was non‐Indian, he wrote with such accuracy and respect for Indians that the Navajo Nation gave him their blessing. That’s when I decided I wanted to write mysteries about my people, the Cherokee."
- Betrayal at the Buffalo Ranch, by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe (February 2018)
"At Indiana University Press, we believe that true crime and regional true mysteries offer a fun and exciting way for readers to dive into history and explore the past," said a spokesperson for the press. To this end, IUP has put out two fun nonfiction crime books this year.
- New England Nightmares: True Tales of the Strange and Gothic, by Keven McQueen (September 2018)
- How to Murder Your Three Wealthy Lovers and Get Away with It: Money & Mayhem in the Gilded Age, by Jane Simon Ammeson (September 2018)
The University of Wisconsin Press, based out of Madison, Wisconsin, is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals with nearly 1,500 titles in print. A very small fraction of those are mysteries, but the UWP \publishes the well-received Dave Cubiak mysteries by Patricia Skalka and considers its mystery and crime-related offerings to be an important part of the family: "Publishing mysteries gives us the opportunity to share intriguing and shocking stories crafted by talented authors against the backdrop of scenic Wisconsin settings. The complex and endearing characters supporting these stories feel familiar, inspired by people and experiences that are deeply Midwestern."
"The plot for Death Stalks Door County, the first book in the series, is based on the simple premise that there are sinister forces at work beneath the surface of the picture-perfect veneer of Door County [Wisconsin]," said Skalka. "For the story to work, I needed a protagonist who knew nothing of the longtime residents and their interpersonal histories – the grudges and animosities, the wrongs that had been done years back. Enter Dave Cubiak, a complete stranger from Chicago. But I also needed someone who knew how to solve a series of murders, so it seemed only natural that he’d be a former homicide detective."
- Death in Cold Water, by Patricia Skalka (November 2018)
- Death by the Bay, by Patricia Skalka (May 2019)
- The Dead of Achill Island, by Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden (May 2019)
The University of Iowa Press says it is a place where first-class writing matters, whether the subject is Whitman or Shakespeare, prairie or poetry, memoirs or medical literature, or, in this case true crime.
"Publishing true crime is important to the University of Iowa Press because these books are inclusive in the nonfiction genre, encompassing historical substance, place, and biography among other topics," said the publisher. "Our books also avoid sensationalism or exploitation of the crimes or victims. We hope that our true crime books will find the readers who are interested in all of these facets of the story, rather than solely about the violent crimes themselves."
- Stamford ’76: A True Story of Murder, Corruption, Race, and Feminism in the 1970s, by JoeAnn Hart (April 2019)
Who doesn’t like Tony Danza?
Come on, he’s affable, charming, and seems genuine, even when he appears to be showboating. He acts, and he sings, and he’s just enjoyable to watch.
And who doesn’t love Josh Groban. Like Danza, he’s affable, charming, and seems genuine. He acts, and he sings, and he’s just enjoyable to watch.
So the pairing of Danza and Groban should work a little better than it does in the enjoyable series The Good Cop. The first season of 10 episodes is now available on Netflix.
The two are an odd couple, father and son cops. Danza plays Tony Caruso Sr., a former cop who went to jail for crimes that he freely admitted he committed while on the force. Groban is Tony Caruso Jr., a self-righteous, always-by-the-book detective who takes being honest a little too far. (He doesn’t want to use napkins from a fast-food place, as that would be wrong.)
Needless to say, Tony Sr. is more freewheeling in everything than the rather priggish Tony Jr.
The Good Cop works as a slightly amusing, with-an-edge police procedural. The stories are just serious enough to elevate the procedural aspects with levity supplied by Groban's uptight personality and Danza’s laissez faire approach to life.
As part of Tony Sr.’s parole, he has to live with his son, thus setting up a perpetual odd-couple arrangement.
Despite their exasperation with each other, father and son genuinely love each other. Tony Jr. wants his dad to be more like a cop than a perpetual con man; Tony Sr. wants his son to have more fun in life.
They also are united in their grief over a tragedy. His wife/his mother was killed by a drunk driver while Tony Sr. was in prison and he wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral. The search for the driver—who is always almost in range—adds a subplot to each episode.
The Tonys get excellent support from Monica Barbaro, who plays Tony Sr.’s parole officer, Cora Vasquez. She soon becomes a detective reporting to Tony Jr., who definitely has a crush on her. The Wire veteran Isiah Whitlock Jr. steals every scene he is in as Tony Jr.’s partner, Burl Loomis, who is counting the days until retirement. When it comes to chasing a criminal, Burl makes it clear each time that he “doesn’t run.” Bill Kottkamp is the geeky CSI tech who would rather be at a toy show.
The chemistry between Danza and Groban works well. I can believe they are father and son. Danza makes the most of Tony Sr.’s need to be the center of attention. And, yes, he looks good.
Groban tamps down his charismatic personality for Tony Jr., who wants to be in the background, especially when he’s around his father. He wants to be liked but knows he can never be as hale and hearty as his father. And the handsome Groban looks very nebbish with his severe hair and thick glasses.
(By the way, Danza sings in The Good Cop’s first season—Groban doesn’t. For those who don't know, Danza has done many turns in Broadway musicals.)
It’s pretty clear from the first episode that both are the good cop, for different reasons. Tony Sr. has the street smarts and looks at crime differently than Tony Jr., who has a Sherlock Holmes-like approach to detective work, seeing and linking the unusual.
The problem is that Groban, as good an actor as he is, can’t make the uptight persona completely work.
Certainly not as well as Monk, which is The Good Cop’s creator Andy Breckman’s other series.
Monk’s secret weapon was, of course, actor Tony Shalhoub, who made the obsessive Monk endearing, annoying, frustrating and empathetic.
A couple of critics have mentioned how Shalhoub could convey everything with a look, the blink of an eye. Shalhoub knows the value of silence. That is so true. Shalhoub, who is one of my two favorite actors, showed every emotion on his face. Like the time he proved a friend’s girlfriend was a killer—just a look conveyed empathy and disgust. Or when he stood in front of a jet plane, stopping a killer—his silence showed he had found his courage, was proud of it and yet was also still afraid, punctuated by touching the plane, an obsession he couldn’t help.
All that actorly business is missing from Groban’s performance.
Despite these flaws, The Good Cop is an enjoyable series. Crisp dialogue, good episodes, and Tony Danza. It’s enough to make me want to see a second season.
(A personal aside—I have met Tony Danza twice and both times he was quite personable. During a theater critics’ event at Sardi’s a couple of years ago, he talked more about his fellow actors and friends at the event than himself. And yes, that’s my photo with him at Sardi’s.)
Photos: Top, Tony Danza, Josh Groban in The Good Cop. Photo courtesy Netflix; Bottom, Tony Danza, Oline Cogdill