THE DEAN IS DEAD
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
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
TDID is available at the college bookstore.
Wednesday Sep 19 |
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.