Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Slow Cold Death

A Slow Cold Death by Susy Gage
Bitingduck Press, 11/1/2012
ebook, 293 pages
ISBN-13: 9781938463372

Lori Barrow was a Wunderkind, the youngest student ever to enroll at America's most exclusive science university. Now, twenty years later, she’s a lonely, socially awkward Luddite whose career is all over the map because she refuses to grow up.. Her alma mater has brought her back as a professor not because of any great achievements, but because they hope her wide range of skills will resuscitate the dying physics department.
She learns very quickly that the “dying” is all too literal. Mysterious deaths and accidents have plagued the department for at least two years, linked somehow to experiments at the South Pole and the happenings at the rocket lab. Afraid of making waves too quickly, Lori keeps her suspicions to herself… until the department’s only female graduate student is found frozen to death in the cold room.
An angry technician with a misogynist streak is arrested, and everyone but Lori breathes a sigh of relief. She is convinced that the murder was not personal but political, a warning to her and her colleagues to stay away from the rocket lab. At stake is a six hundred million dollar grant that has the power to return the department to its former glory.

My Thoughts:
A Slow Cold Death by Susy Gage introduces us to intrigue and murder in the Physics Department at a large university, Superior Technological Institute or STI. Lori Burrow leaves Canada and returns to her alma mater as a physics professor on the track to tenure. While the university students have launched many student pranks in the past, they have never included murder or attempted murder. Is this a personal vendetta or is something larger at stake?
Lori Burrow is a fun physics professor who roller blades and bikes with the best of them (Canadian). Sometimes she's clueless and often she is clever. She is always energetic.  Hopefully Gage will continue the series and we'll see Lori back solving a new mystery.
There are a few draw backs to this writer's debut novel. The cast of characters was large and could potentially become unwieldy for some readers. While the action isn't intense in the beginning chapters, in some ways the atypical characters and setting makes up for it. Murder mysteries aren't often found connected with physics professors. 

"Most of my inspiration for writing comes as sort of a 'bolt from the blue'–and the next 5-10 years are spent turning that stroke of inspiration into an actual manuscript. The plot of A Slow Cold Death came, amusingly enough, from a duck. I was hiking in the woods near a rocket lab that shall remain nameless, and saw a poor old mallard dead in the run-off pond next to the lab. After a moment of silence for the poor bird, I immediately thought, 'That could be a person!' and then… 'It would look like an accident, but what if it was murder?' The whole first third or so of the book was born of that single inspiration."
The publisher, Bitingduck Press, is an independent press based in Pasadena and Montreal ( that specializes in science titles, both fiction and nonfiction, digital and print.
Highly Recommended

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Bitingduck Press and Netgalley for review purposes.


Jacob Silverman hated graduations. They made him feel like a piece of infrastructure, paraded around in a silly costume for the benefit of students who had bugged him for four, eight, sometimes as many as thirteen years in the case of his least-favorite PhD student. His gray and red academic regalia was sweltering, and at ten o’clock on this ninth of May in beautiful Pasadena, California, it was already over one hundred degrees. So while the campus of the Superior Technological Institute was being strewn with roses and computer cables for the big day, he strapped a water bottle around his waist, laced up his hiking boots, and headed into the foothills alone. The air grew cooler and cleaner with every mile, and there were no sounds besides the humming of insects and his own footfalls. When he was struck from behind, he thought at first of a landslide, raising his arms to protect his head. Then a second blow fell between his shoulder blades, accompanied by a distinctly human grunt. Location 14-21
Maupertuis will tell you many things, but pay him little heed.” Alexander Kuznetsov’s too-formal English made him seem even creepier somehow. “He was shot in the chest on the freeway last year, and he hasn’t been the same since. He’ll die long before he gets tenure.” Lori recoiled instinctively from the terrible words, forgetting she was still wearing her rollerblades. Location 29-32
After all the grief of last year, Lori had wanted to leave Canada so much that she hadn’t stopped to wonder what STI really wanted from her. She had thought they were being generous when they gave her credit for all five years she’d spent as an assistant professor, offering to give her tenure after only one year if things went well. That was the ultimate sign that she was so out of touch that she no longer understood anything that mattered. It was the first rule of this place—trust no one. Location 64-67

“Is Kuznetsov evil?” she asked.
“He’s more than evil,” retorted Louis, who pushed the way obsessed people walk, flying down the bumpy sidewalk with apparent disregard for fallen grapefruit and ficus pods. “He is the enemy.” Location 105-107

“By the way, how did you recognize me like this? I was hoping to stay incognito.”
He laughed. “Lori, you’re wearing your skinsuit, helmet, and a number in eleven out of the twelve images that appear under your name in a Google search.” Location 118-119
“I may be immature, Louis, but I am not stupid.” With the skates off, she was right at his eye level and gave him a steady glare. “I know perfectly well that string theory is for losers and that we were hired to drive Kuzno and his flunkies out.” Location 138-140
But if the answer was positive, a tenured professor could be as big of a pain in the ass as she wanted. Nothing short of a major felony could get you fired, and sometimes not even that. Most people—especially most young professors—didn’t understand that winning tenure was less about being a great scholar than about convincing your colleagues that they wanted you down the hall for the next sixty years. Location 197-199

Carol nearly choked on her protein shake when she saw Lori Barrow’s name on the weekly Astrophysics mailing list. It took her three days to get up the nerve to send her an e-mail. They’d gone to graduate school together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Carol felt as though she knew Lori intimately even though she feared that her colleague wouldn’t remember her at all. Location 209-211


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