PICKING LEMONS by J. T. Toman

Lemons  You know, I almost didn’t snag this book because of the cover.  Not that I have anything against pointy pink cowboy boots, but because a light, cutesy cover usually signals a light cutesy book, and light cutesy is not usually my go-to kind of read.

But, whoo howdy, am I glad I downloaded it and actually read it!  So looking at the cover, we figure it is going to be about a kicky perky cowgirl,  academia, and ummmm lemons.

Almost.

The cowgirl is a tough-minded economics Ph.D at a prestigious Ivy League university in Connecticut, who after paying her dues in an all-male Economics department, primly attired in her charcoal  grey suits, hair back, attending every meeting, seminar, etc., finally achieves TENURE!   Yahoo!   Turns out, she is from a Texas ranch, and the day after her tenure papers are signed, the FIRST woman to be granted tenure in the Economics Department, shows up in those boots, a turquoise  skirt, and spangled cowgirl shirt.

Her wrists clinked with bangles, and her long blonde hair swung loose.  She strode into a faculty meeting and watched her colleagues’ mouths hang open.  “Hi, ya’ll,”  she drawled in her natural Texas twang.  “Don’t let me stop you from telling your stories.  You know I just love a good ball-scratcher first thing in the morning.”

The Economics Department is filled with upward clawing, ambitious men.

“What is that great quote by Kissinger?  Something about the reason university politics are so vicious is because the stakes are so small.

And of those vicious, ambitions men, darn if one of them — arguably the most obnoxious of them — doesn’t get himself murdered.  Strangled with the hood of his academic gown.  Poetic justice at its finest, if you ask me.

C. J., our pink cowboy boots-wearing newly tenured protagonist, talks over the exciting mystery with her buddy, Betsy,

Betsy was an adjunct instructor the the Economics Department and had been for something like 30 years.  No one knew how old Betsy Williams was or how much she weighed, but those fluent in statistics considered that both numbers were high enough to make every breath she took an actuarial anomaly.

The top female grad student in C.J.’s class had a theory on how to discover the murder:

Is this like the market for second-hand cars?  Instead of trying to pick out the bad car from the good ones, we are trying to pick out the guilty person from the innocent people?   C.J. responds, “Your used car dealer has a bad car, a lemon as it were, but has polished it real nice, maybe even turned back that odometer.  It is therefore hard to know which is a good car and which is a bad car.  Same here.  The murderer is going to try and present himself as an innocent person, making it hard to tell who just didn’t like Professor DeBeyer and who is a killer.

And the rest of the book is all of us kicking tires, and looking at the paint job to see if it was in an accident.

Great read, well-written, nifty plot, and lots of fun characters.  We have 87-year-old Charles, a bit doddery and totally deaf, ruminating while seated at his new computer on the days of yore:

In those days, he used punch cards to write code, and (though he didn’t tell very many people this story), he published a paper with completely erroneous results as he had entered the punch cards backwards into the computer.  Charles hadn’t realised the error until years later.

We have the obnoxious head of the Department answering a faculty member’s concern:

Of course I am not guaranteeing your safety.  Whan an absurd concept.  You could walk across Knollwood to your office and get hit by a car.  I have no control over that.  Likewise, the murderer could meet you, be as irritated as I am now, and decide to do the world a favor by killing you.  I, also, cannot control that.  All I am merely saying is that, given the two victims thus far were pre-eminent economists doing cutting-edge, life-altering research, I think the probability that you, an economist of little value, will be murdered is low.

And lots of other great characters.   So in spite of the kind of hooky cover, if you like mysteries, if you like an academic setting, if you like ballsy female characters,  snag this one for yourself.

The author has a Ph.D. in economics, (from Yale, no less), and a degree in zookeeping .  Yeah.  Those two career fields go together.  I can see that.

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