Diane Donovan, senior reviewer for the Midwest Book Review had this to say about Lesson Plan for Murder:
What are the connections between psychopathic behaviors and teachers? Lesson Plan for Murder explores this and other facets of an English teacher’s sudden demise with a story line that is hard-hitting from its first sentences: “If you wish to inflict the kind of pain that festers forever, consult an English teacher. They’re easier to find than psychopaths, and they understand how to make people suffer. I speak from experience. Ten years of teaching English has taught me that emotional torture delivers slings and arrows that linger long after the initial attack.”
Perhaps there’s no one better qualified to both assess the powers and problems of English teaching or the possibilities involved in the murder of an especially demanding instructor than a fellow teacher, and Liz just knows no self-respecting English teacher could commit suicide (as some have suggested) without leaving a grammatically-correct note detailing the matter.
And so she joins a police investigation, embarking on a mission outside her area of expertise to solve the puzzles surrounding Marcia’s death. The first thing she finds is that some of the clues lie in the English language, in coded lesson plans that involve Shakespeare references and clues that no non-instructor could decipher.
Her special English language knowledge thus places her in a better position to track down the possibilities than even the savvy detective assigned to Marcia’s case (it also helps that she’s the daughter of a small-time crook and con man). As she unravels a complicated case, a series of dangerous encounters place her not only closer to the truth, but at odds with others who also are racing against time.
Within the mystery genre there are always some standout titles, and the reasons for their exceptional presence lie not so much in murder mystery solving, but in the delicate process of crafting personalities, purposes, and logic that lead mystery fans on a satisfyingly complex course of investigation.
In the case of Lesson Plan for Murder, this art is carefully done and lends a lively feel to a story line filled with clever twists and psychological intrigue. Part of the reason why these devices work so wonderfully here are the tie-ins with English literature and teaching: “Mrs. Donnatella was not a likely candidate as the target of Marcia’s lesson plan on Lolita, since the book featured a pedophile, and she loathed children even more than she loathed adults.”
Liz maintains close relationships with students and family and attends to her teaching duties throughout, which adds realistic atmosphere and insights to the story line. The peppering of psychological insights about these relationships also offer plenty of nicely-done moments: “When I asked George “what about you” I meant that I wanted to know what he would be doing to help take charge of the situation, and I was distracted by his selfish answer.”
The threads of humor that run through the story also offer comic relief unexpected in a murder mystery (“While I was waiting I called the Oak Ridge police department, although I was slightly embarrassed at the thought of the cops inspecting the house. The cleaning ladies were due to come the following morning, which meant that from a housekeeping perspective, the house was at its worst.”), rounding out the attributes that place Lesson Plan for Murder in a class of its own as a thoroughly engrossing, occasionally funny, wry examination of the world of teaching, students, and the challenges of solving a colleague’s demise.
Very highly recommended as an exceptional stand-out powered not just by its mystery, but by a psychological atmosphere that bring characters and setting to life to keep its action fast-paced and vivid.