A small women's college in Vermont is the setting for this promising debut mystery by "Clare Munnings," the pseudonym adopted by Jill Ker Conway, former president of Smith College, and her friend and colleague Elizabeth Kennan, former president of Mount Holyoke. Our heroine is Rosemary Stubbs, a CFO-turned-chaplain who stumbles on the college treasurer's dead body at the start of the academic year. Rosemary draws upon her theological wisdom to counsel the grieving college community while utilizing her familiarity with balance sheets to sort out the institution's bewildering financial disarray.

When it becomes clear that someone in the upper echelons of the administration has been siphoning off the college's "overnight float" interest for personal gain, Rosemary must act quickly before the embezzler/killer finds her. Mystery fans will recognize a few familiar themes; the plot is reminiscent of Jane Langton's Harvard-set "The Memorial Hall Murders," and Munnings' opera-loving local detective comes across as a more suave and likeable version of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse. The killer's identity is a bit unsurprising, and the story begins too slowly, but the mystery's charms lie not so much in its plot twists as its well-developed characters, spiritual depth, and intimate knowledge of the workings of a small college community. For a first mystery, this is a winner.

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