Aside from the Sherlock Holmes short stories, I've never been much of a fan for mysteries. The handful of mystery novels I've read always felt like I was working through a crossword puzzle (instead of enjoying a story). So it was very much an impulse purchase when, as I was looking through a new Barnes & Noble that had just opened, I picked up Rupert Holmes' Murder Your Employer. I'm glad the store placed it where it did.
Set in the 1950's, the book follows three protagonists, Cliff Iverson, an engineer and all-around likable guy, Gemma Lindley, a young British woman who lost her father to illness, and Doris Maye, a Hollywood maven facing the twilight of her career. The three of them, it turns out, all have one thing in common: they each work for a boss that is utterly, completely, irredeemably awful. These bosses aren't just bad to work for, they're bad for society. Each of whom, in their own way, engrandizes themselves while impoverishing (and sometimes endangering) others. Holmes does a wonderful job of making the reader, like the protagonists, wish their bosses were dead.
As it turns out, there's a school for people like Cliff, Gemma, and Doris. The McMaster Conservatory located in ... well, no one (except the faculty) knows exactly where this pristine, Victorian campus is. Because the students are always brought there under sedation. At McMaster, pupils who wish to "delete" (the euphemism for murder) undersirable targets, take classes to hone their skills in the finer aspects of getting away with murder. There's a code, of sorts, and the course work is quite rigorous. The campus is, of course, bucolic--with dormitories, "labs," athletic fields, gorgeous parks, a quaint pub, and even a chapel (with a serving cleric!). Think of McMaster as a Hogwarts of Homicide. If this all seems a little much for the premise of a mystery novel, it is. But Holmes layers it in manageable pieces and serves it out with clever prose and vignettes, so suspending one's disbelief becomes a delight. The author also, quite wisely, doesn't endeavor to string an entire novel around the school, but instead breaks the book into halves.
The second half of the book follows Cliff, Gemma, and Doris as they return to the real world to work through their "theses" (that is, the actual murder of their respective targets). You'll find yourself cheering them on as three separate "mysteries" are slowly laid out through the point of view of the persons attempting to commit the crimes. The endings are not at all predictable, with plenty of twists and complications to keep the reader on his or her toes.
Overall, this was a really enjoyable read. It may be a tad long (there are a couple of points in the first half that drag a bit). And the premise is absolutely ludicrous. But Holmes makes it work with masterful pacing, relatable characters, some fine wordsmithing, and a genuine sense of fun that's suffused throughout the book. Recommended.