Concordia Wells is back for another year of teaching and trying to keep mischievous students’ pranks to a minimum. Hartford Women’s College has a new lady principal, Olivia Grant, who already has a reputation for being overly strict and who seems to hate Concordia in particular. Then there’s Madame Durand, a spirit medium who has started a “Spirit Club” on campus and who Concordia worries is taking advantage of her mother’s grief over the death of Concordia’s sister.
Everything takes a turn for the worse when an Egyptian amulet donated to the college is stolen and the man who donated it, Colonel Adams, is murdered. His daughter and Concordia’s best friend, Sophia Adams, confesses to the murder, but Concordia is convinced she didn’t do it. Finding the real killer will involve finding the amulet and learning more about her own father’s unexpected past as an Egyptologist.
I read the first book in this series almost 3 years ago. Although I didn’t love it and generally thought its mysteries were too obvious, it was a smooth and appealing read that made me want to continue on with the series. I feel much the same about this second book. Concordia was still an enjoyable character, and I liked the historical details, although I wondered whether Lady Principal Grant would really have had the power to confine Concordia, an adult and professor, to the campus the way she did. The women’s college setting continued to be fun and interesting, even though I found myself wishing that it went beyond the occasional mention of student pranks and grading papers. It would have been nice if Concordia had had more on-page conversations with individual students.
After finishing the first book, I was interested in seeing how Concordia’s familial and romantic relationships turned out. This book gave me a lot of the former and not much of the latter. A large portion of Unseemly Pursuits was focused on Concordia’s rocky relationship with her mother, who didn’t approve of her decision to become a professor, and her relationship with her late father. I loved Concordia’s gradual realization that she’d possibly put her father too much on a pedestal. I was less thrilled with the easy way Concordia’s years worth of issues with her mother seemed to resolve themselves in the end. Hopefully the next book makes it clear that it isn’t quite as simple as Concordia and her mother having a few heart-to-hearts.
I’m somewhat wary of Concordia’s romantic subplot, due to my worry that any sort of more serious relationship might lead to Concordia having to quit her job. However, even I was taken aback by the complete lack of mention of David, Concordia’s most likely love interest, for much of the beginning of the book. Him not being around campus was one thing, but she didn’t even idly think about him from time to time. His appearances in this book were few and mostly unmemorable, although there were a couple developments that make me think the romantic subplot might become more prominent (and awkward?) in the next book.
One character who was around more than David: Lieutenant Capshaw. I honestly can’t remember what he was like in the first book, but I really liked him in this one, and David’s general absence made me wonder if the author was planning on shifting Concordia to a new love interest. David seemed like a nice enough guy, but Capshaw could spend the series scowling at Concordia’s amateur sleuthing, doing his best to keep her out of harm’s way, and falling in love with her over the course of several books’ worth of encounters. Sadly, his interest lay elsewhere.
As in the first book, Unseemly Pursuits’ mysteries were a bit too obvious at times. Thankfully, Concordia seemed to catch onto things a little more quickly this time around - I usually only had to wait a page or two for her to realize things I’d already figured out myself. The biggest exception involved a character whose sudden change in behavior somehow didn't clue Concordia into that character's likely involvement in the overall mystery.
While I did enjoy seeing how all of the book’s seemingly unrelated mysteries fit together, there was so much going on that the story tended to feel a bit cluttered. That said, I liked it overall and will probably be continuing on with the series.
I noticed one or two continuity errors. The one I’m most sure about involved Dean Pierce. At one point he brushed his hair out of his eyes. However, earlier on he was described as being bald. I don’t think there was enough time between those two parts for him to grow hair long enough to get into his eyes.
The one I’m less sure about: Madame Durand was initially described by one character as having an odd accent, somewhat like that of a Romance language speaker but with occasional Slavic language speaker aspects. Concordia thought of her accent as “exotic.” However, later on Madame Durand’s dialogue was peppered with French words and seemed more specifically French. I thought it might be a sign Madame Durand was slipping up, but Concordia never noted a shift in her accent.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)