Many thanks to the author for the review copy
Sounds of Murder by Patricia Rockwell
When Psychology Professor Pamela Barnes discovers her department’s star researcher strangled to death in the computer lab, she’s determined to find out who did it. Will an accidental recording of the murder allow Pamela to use her expertise in acoustics to identify the killer? A unique cozy mystery–set in the world of academia and high-stakes research–full of excitement, humour, and romance.
Patricia Rockwell’s debut novel Sounds of Murder is a cozy murder mystery which brings back childhood memories of reading the adventures of amateur sleuths like Nancy Drew — except instead of a teenaged detective, we have an older, professional sleuth who uses acoustics to solve crime.
Main character Pamela Barnes is a university professor with an expertise in acoustic technology and a fascination with human vocal sound. When she and her student discover the body of a colleague in the department’s prize computer lab, Pamela feels compelled to crack the case, convinced that she alone has the necessary expertise. Pamela has the classical personality of an amateur sleuth: she’s passionate, stubborn, and can’t leave well enough alone.
Her involvement in the murder is much to the chagrin of her husband, Rocky, a former Army cook who now teaches university-level English. While I’m not a huge fan of his name, I often found myself siding with Rocky: the reckless sleuthing behaviour I accepted from Nancy Drew seems incredibly irresponsible coming from an older woman like Pamela, especially considering she has a husband and daughter.
The murder itself is set upon an interesting backdrop of high stakes research and academic politics, ensuring that there is a wide enough range of potential suspects to keep you guessing. Rockwell’s extensive experience working in academia shines here, as the university setting is very realistic and evocative.
As for the sleuthing, the use of acoustic technology to solve the murder is certainly intriguing (although, having studied Linguistics at university, I may have a slight bias!). However, there are certain limitations in using sound waves as a primary plot device, most notably that it is incredibly difficult to convey sound through words. As a result — unlike with other cozy mysteries — I was unable to form my own hypotheses on the murderer’s identity.
A second main limitation with using sound is that, once Pamela finds the recording, her focus switches to analysing the sound file (again, something in which the reader cannot participate). As a result, Pamela’s sleuthing felt a little repetitive, going over the same clues over and over to find out what was missing, rather than discovering new clues together to push the investigation onwards.
Overall, I found the story engaging popcorn reading. While perhaps a little slow-paced, the setting and unusual sleuthing method were enough to keep me intrigued, and Rockwell’s crisp, clean prose made the novel a very quick read.
In sum, Sounds of Murder is a light-hearted, entertaining murder mystery with enough distinguishing elements to set it apart from other sleuthing tales. The characters are believable, the university setting is very realistic and the use of acoustic technology is original. Recommended for fans of gentle murder mysteries with strong romantic subplots.
Sounds of Murder is the first in a trilogy; the sequel FM For Murder is already out now, with the third book, Voice Mail Murder, due out later this year.