Speaking of Murder, by Tace Baker. Barking Rain Press, Vancouver WA, 2012. 178 pages. Paperback. $12.95

Professor Lauren Rousseau doesnt know when to say no, starting with her decision to indulge in an overnight tryst with her smartest, best-looking student Jamal Carter. Shortly afterward, the linguistics professor discovers Jamals dead body on campus. Her feistiness is the driver here and before weve finished Chapter One, Rousseau has more than one mystery to mull. And once things get going, they dont let up.

Rousseau acts first and mulls later. Shes young, single, smart and on the verge of major life decisions she doesnt really want to make. She likes jogging as a method of de-stressing and problem solving, so Rousseau takes a lot of runs that, in turn, take her down a number of dangerous and circuitous paths.

Theres more than Jamals murder to disrupt the routine at Agawam College on Bostons North Shore. Rousseaus department chair, Alexa Kensington, has morphed from merely bad tempered to downright threatening and evil. Before he dies, Jamal presents to Rousseau a document that accuses Kensington of child abuse. On top of that, Rousseaus best friend Elise goes missing and is likely using drugs again. Pascal Martin, a sinister and sadistic man, is clearly a bad guy, but where he fits in amid the drug abuse, murder and child molestation is unclear to Rousseau.

All of these are dire situations, not necessarily related. They consume Rousseau as she struggles to come to a decision about Zac, the man she loves but doesnt want to settle down with quite yet. Then theres the scholarly book shes writing, her teaching and her dog and beloved companion Wulu, who gets dog-napped at the same time her home is invaded and torn apart. Rousseau herself is threatened in varying degrees a number of times.

The local police are investigating the murder but they appear detached. Rousseau does not so much make up her mind to solve the mystery of Jamals murder as she happens upon evidence that leads her from one clue to the next. This is a fun read but it does require your attention. There are a lot of suspicious characters, and for good reason. Theres a lot going on in Bostons North Shore that bears investigation.

Natalia, Rousseaus sisters love interest, is the lead detective on the case. Its an interesting situation, since Rousseau gets in over her head repeatedly. At the same time, she does a service by providing Natalia with valuable clues. Rousseau doesnt think too deeply about how her disobedience of police warnings will impact her sisters domestic life just as she doesnt seem too worried about hopping into the sack with one of her students while seriously involved with Zac. These human failings make the book better than many procedurals and whodunits. There are lots of flawed and vulnerable characters in Speaking of Murder and their flaws add to the mystery.

Also fun are all the good meals Jackie serves to Rousseau and Natalia, beginning with a yummy Easter feast. You dont want to be hungry while reading Speaking of Murder.

Rae Padilla Francoeurs memoir, Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair, is available online or in bookstores. Write her at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.