By William Urban

Normally authors don’t write reviews of their own books, but Tuesday’s book reading at the Warren County Library was so enjoyable that I thought I would break this rule. Organized by the library staff and Jan DeYoung, it attracted about twenty listeners, some of whom later happily purchased copies. That’s the moment that an author knows his work is really appreciated. Whether it’s the grocery store tabloid or a recent book, customers only put out money when they expect to enjoy a good read.

For others, who may just have more books in the house than they know what to do with, there is the library. I sympathize with this problem, because our place is overflowing with books. Adding small piles of my own publications — in this case, The Dean Is Dead — only adds to the problem. That is another reason I like to see the books go into the hands of appreciative readers.

Writing a novel was a departure from the usual for me. I’m known as a non-fiction writer, and each genre has its own rules. Fiction can be harder, because fiction has to be plausible, while straight history only has to follow the rules of accuracy and honesty. Of course, fiction can be accurate in its own way, catching the spirit of thoughts and actions. It can be honest, too, but it allows, sometimes even expects, exaggeration, irony and satire. And, for some writers, sex and violence. If that is what you’re looking for, TDID isn’t your book — the dean is dead before the book opens; the story is about finding who killed him and why. The "why" is paramount, because once that is discovered, any reader of murder mysteries can tell you "who".

I wrote a straight history of Monmouth College in 1978. It was a pretty good story, I thought. In the Sixties our small college tried to change its image, to attract a national student body (i.e., east coast), and grow rapidly in numbers and size. Those were intelligent goals, but more difficult to manage than expected. Then came the Seventies, with the end of the draft, an energy crisis, new junior colleges, an expansion of the minor state universities, and an enrollment slump. Monmouth College went through a unpleasant period of retrenchment, coming out of the crisis only when President DeBow Freed brought the college back to its roots.

Briarpatch College, the location of my novel, is a school which failed to make a similar recovery. Briarpatch is what any small liberal arts college could have become. It was only a short while back that our friendly rival up the road, Knox College, went through financial difficulties. The way back was hard, but its football team, unlike Briarpatch’s, is rebuilding successfully. (On the back cover I note "If you’ve ever attended a small college, you’ve been to Briarpatch. Your alma mater’s endowment may be larger, the buildings newer and the football team more successful, but the faculty, the staff and the cafeteria food are the same everywhere.")

Cafeteria food is certainly better today than in the past, but most readers know what I mean, and students still prefer mother’s meals to anything the best chefs can provide. But what else can you expect when the standard is fast food? Which, by the way, isn’t that bad. Not healthy, maybe, but not bad. Middleville, the home of Briarpatch College, does not have a single nationally-known fast food restaurant. The only newspaper is a weekly, and readers wouldn’t find a column like this in it — nobody at Briarpatch College publishes, not even weekly essays.

TDID is available at the college bookstore.

Review Atlas

Posted by DramaJim on Wednesday Sep 19 | via This link will take you off Topix

Professor Bill Urban appeared at the Warren County Public Library in Monmouth, IL on Tuesday evening September 18th. He read from his new book, The Dean is Dead, answered questions, and afterwards signed copies for some of the audience.

Urban teaches History at Monmouth College,Monmouth, IL and has written some twenty books--most of them scholarly studies on medieval history. The Dean is Dead is his first foray into fiction and it breaks the mould completely by being a comic mystery set in a small, financially starved liberal arts college. The characters are amusingly common types found on most campuses and you will find yourself chuckling often as they try to go about their business while the murder investigation dredges up old animosities and new suspects.