Final Exam Review
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College life always has its share of secrets and scandals. I still remember my days in the dorms, when we used to gossip about who was dating whom—and who was smoking what in the woods behind the school. Still, the scandals at my small Midwestern college paled in comparison to those at St. Thomas College in Maggie Barbieri’s Final Exam.

Professor Alison Bergeron is seen as a bit of a troublemaker at St. Thomas, a small Catholic school outside New York City. Wherever Alison goes, scandal (and often murder) is sure to follow. But although Alison has nothing to do with the latest on-campus scandal, she’s about to get involved anyway. Because when the resident director from one of the dorms disappears without warning, the dean tells Alison to pack her bags and report for duty.

With her newly-separated best friend, Max, staying at her house, Alison isn’t exactly eager to leave. She’s not thrilled about her tiny new “suite” (or the dorm’s strict rules), either. The only way out, she figures, is to find the missing RD.

Even before Alison can begin her search for the elusive Wayne Brookwell, though, the trouble begins—starting with an exploding toilet that’s hiding a whole lot of heroin. It soon becomes clear that Wayne was more than just an irresponsible RD—and Alison’s not the only one who’s looking for him.

Though Final Exam isn’t as laugh-out-loud quirky as Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, it has the same offbeat charm—thanks, especially, to its motley cast of characters. Though Alison’s tendency to wind up in the middle of all sorts of murder and mayhem (especially at a small parochial school) is admittedly rather uncanny, she’s a likeable character nonetheless. The supporting characters, though, are even more entertaining—like Alison’s two best friends: impulsive TV producer Max and the school’s slightly unorthodox chaplain, Father Kevin McManus. The various students, too, add their own dorm drama. And, together, their antics make for a light and enjoyable read.

St. Thomas is definitely an unusual setting for a mystery novel, but it’s a welcome change—especially for those, like me, who attended a small college. In fact, as the story unfolded, I couldn’t help but imagine the action taking place at my alma mater—and in my old dorm. I felt like I was there, sitting at the desk, where I used to work. And, for me, that only added to the story’s appeal.

The plot, however, is just a bit too simple. The search for Wayne goes on too long—with Alison coming so close to catching him time and time again. And, after a while of the same cat-and-mouse chase, the story starts to drag.

Still, if you often look back fondly on your own dorm days, pick up a copy of Final Exam. If only for a while, it’ll let you relive all the drama, scandal, and sneaking around—without having to worry about studying for midterms.

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