Physical Education Review
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You might think that life at a small Catholic college would be serene and idyllic—but that’s never really the case at St. Thomas College. English professor Alison Bergeron seems to be a murder magnet—and she’s at it again in author Maggie Barbieri’s latest Murder 101 mystery, Physical Education.

Alison finds herself at the center of yet another mystery after the body of St. Thomas’s new mailman is found in the trunk of her car. Really, it’s nothing new for Alison, who’s had her share of dead bodies stuffed in her trunk (and people falling dead at her feet, too, for that matter), but that doesn’t make it any less troubling—for Alison or for the school.

To make up for the unfavorable media attention that she’s brought to the school, Alison is forced to take over as coach of the struggling girls’ basketball team—even though she’s completely unqualified for the job. To make matters worse, her new husband, NYPD Detective Bobby Crawford, seems to have gone AWOL. He claims to be working overtime—but, since Crawford’s partner, Fred, is helping out as her assistant coach, Alison’s starting to wonder if Crawford is keeping something from her.

Author Maggie Barbieri has definitely hit her stride in her sixth Murder 101 mystery (following 2010’s Third Degree). Physical Education is as light and entertaining as previous books in the series, building just the right touches of romance and humor on a solid foundation murder and mayhem.

Alison is also as lovable as ever—a hard-working professor, a loyal friend, and now a clueless basketball coach and devoted (though somewhat anxious) new bride. She’s got a voice that’s all her own—the kind of easy-going, slightly sarcastic, no-nonsense voice that makes reading her adventures feel more like a coffee break with your closest friend. The other characters, too, add eccentric touches to the story—from Alison’s intimidating friend and assistant coach, Fred, to the nosy nuns of St. Thomas.

The story, meanwhile, is even better than before—complex yet well-balanced, with plenty of plotlines tangled in to keep things interesting. Unlike many fictional characters—especially amateur sleuths—Alison doesn’t have just one thing happening in her life at a time. As in real life, nothing here is simple and straightforward—and Alison finds herself pulled in all directions. Not only is she concerned about the case regarding Paul the mailman (who turns out to be a former Mob soldier named Vito Passella), but she’s also trying to juggle her new coaching job and her shaky marriage—all the while trying to get to the bottom of an old mystery involving her friend and former St. Thomas chaplain, Kevin McManus. There’s definitely a lot going on here—and it all ends up tangled together—but it never feels overwhelming. In fact, with so many plotlines woven together, it makes the novel all the more entertaining.

Since much of the story builds on events that took place in Barbieri’s earlier books, however, Physical Education might not be the best place to pick up the series. It might help if you know a little more about the characters and their history before you dive into the latest installment in the series—so I recommend picking up Third Degree first.

Still, it’s well worth going back a book or two to meet the lovably quirky characters in Maggie Barbieri’s Murder 101 mysteries—a fun-filled mystery series that seems to be getting even more entertaining with each new installment.

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