Tuesday 7 June 2022




"I can just imagine the questions in history," Fox said. "Who was our first of it, maybe the second one's too hard. But you get the idea!"

"Yeah," Burns said. "I get the idea."

Hartley Gorman College, in Pecan City, Texas, is hardly a bastion of serious scholarship. The little Baptist school is more interested in shielding its students from the evil influence of The World, The Flesh, and The Devil than in turning out future Nobelists. But its staff, by and large, is worthy of a more demanding institution; they are victims of a glutted market in Ph.D.s and they do the best they can. So it is they who are most upset at Dean Elmore's "secret plan" to award credit hours for "undirected study" by "independent scholars"—in plain words, to turn the school into a diploma mill.

Which may be why Dean Elmore, shortly after unveiling his plan, is found bludgeoned to death at his desk. It is certainly why, at his funeral, there is not a wet eye in the house.

Or so observes Carl Burns, Hartley Gorman professor of English literature, through whose eyes we see both the crime and the larger picture of this wacky denominational Texas school.

Those readers familiar with Bill Crider's books about Sheriff Dan Rhodes of Blacklin County, Texas, knows how wryly witty this author can be; here the humor is revved up a few notches, and the resulting account of Elmore's murder, Sheriff "Boss" Napier's investigation, Bums's well-meant meddling, and the people and doings at Hartley Gorman are the exactly-right mix of realism and wackiness to make the book a delight as well as a suspenseful mystery.

One Dead Dean is the first in Bill Crider's Carl Burns series of four books. Burns is an English Lit professor at a small college in Texas. The book, slow to start, concerns the murder of the unlikable Dean Elmore of the Hartley Gorman College. Burns discovers the body and initially more by misfortune than design, keeps turning up whenever bad things happen on the college campus. Namely a subsequent unsuccessful arson attack on the school building and after that a rather more successful blaze. 

Initially I wasn't really vibing the book, but once it got going I warmed to it. We don't get much back story for Burns, though we do learn he isn't married, but he's not gay. He's happily single, he loves books and literature. He's popular with the most of the other teachers and his pupils. And he loves making lists, though rarely completes them.

After the murder and his initial gentle run in with Sheriff Napier. Burns does a bit of snooping, armed with his list of suspects. To be honest, I think I would have happily killed the dean myself, as he went out of his way to annoy, irritate and upset everyone in his orbit. Given his position of authority at the college that was pretty much the campus population. 

I enjoyed the humour in the book. Napier is terrible with names and rarely calls a character the same name twice. There's an amusing dynamic between the Sheriff and Binns, Baines, Bones or whatever else he is calling Burns at that moment in time. There's some friction between the two as well but not that much.

There's a lot of discontent on the campus over Elmore's plans to plug some gaps in the college's finances and his appalling attitude to staff and pupils alike. Cheapening degrees, eliminating the sports department, humiliating the football coach, playing favourites, having a God complex, using blackmail to get his position and a few more offences besides. 

I quite liked the backdrop of academia and education. There's tension and jealousy prevalent and a lot of the staff seem very focused on self as opposed to viewing their profession solely as a vocation.

Best book ever? No, but enjoyable enough. I think I have probably enjoyed Crider's Dan Rhodes books a bit more, but it's early days and with a couple more of the Burns books waiting for me maybe he'll become an equal favourite as well in time.

Overall 3.5 from 5

Bill Crider has been enjoyed a few times in the past and will be again in the future.

Too Late to Die, Cursed to Death, Shotgun Saturday NightOutrage at BlancoPiano ManBlood Dreams (as Jack MacLane)Gator KillDead on the Island and A Time for Hanging

Read - (listened to) May, 2022

Published - 1988

Page count - 167 (6 hrs 31 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible


  1. I do like the sound of this, Col. I enjoy Crider's Dan Rhodes books, and a series with a college professor as the main character has a real appeal for me... And you're right about academia being an effective backdrop for a mystery. I ought to try this series, I think.

    1. Margot, I think you would enjoy this one. You like Bill's work and you like books set around academia. Win/win!