By: Peter Maeck
Publisher: Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC
Publication Date: June 13, 2023
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: June 18, 2023
Peter Maeck delivers an engaging, whimsical, and often humorous read in his novel, Zänker, that is also quite the ‘who done it’ mystery.
The stage is set. The story begins in the village of Glenfarne, an intimate college town nestled in the forests of northern Vermont; roughly fifty miles east of Montpelier. However, a little backstory of how Dr. Amos Loeb became the president of Ballyvaughan College needs to be explained. Dr. Loeb was born in 1927 in Leipzig, Germany. He was barely six years old when Hitler became the German Chancellor. Dr. Loeb’s parents, Asher and Ruth Loeb, detested Hitler and vehemently (and openly) opposed everything he stood for. When a plot to murder ‘der Fürer’ failed, the family went into hiding at which time Amos’ father lapsed into a dark depression and not long after, he committed suicide. On the heels of his father’s death, Loeb and his mother were captured by the Nazis and fortunately for the younger Loeb, he was "...spared from execution and thus he survived, starved and nearly frozen to death, until January 1945 when the camp was liberated by the Soviets..." (page 10). With his newfound freedom, Amos Loeb returned to Germany and attended university. He was quite successful and his travels deposited him in the United States where he went on to earn a Ph.D. in European History at Stanford, specializing in the Nazi era. And so began Dr. Loeb’s life at Ballyvaughan College; initially as a professor and in 1970 he was named Ballyvaughan’s President. However, the story is far from over at this point.
As Loeb’s career blossomed, he became famous by writing books and lecturing nationwide and worldwide on the Holocaust. Fast forward to Friday, November 1, 1988, Dr. Loeb’s day began much like any other day. Everything was routine with the exception that this day was the first day of the Autumn Inferno Weekend; the annual celebration of Ballyvaughan’s traditions. Thousands of alumni would arrive on campus to join three thousand undergrads for the festivities and undoubtedly they would all vie for the privilege of shaking the esteemed Dr. Loeb’s hand. However, there was one alum who was less than enamored with the accomplished Dr. Loeb. Thirty-eight year old Tom Dunraven, graduate of the class of ’71, was intent on making Dr. Loeb pay for being an integral part in changing the prestige of the school. Prior to 1970, the school was all male and (in Tom’s opinion) Loeb soiled its reputation by opening enrollment to females. Dunraven wouldn’t miss this celebration for anything and was on a mission to let Loeb know exactly how he felt. What Tom hadn’t planned for at the end of the bonfire celebration on that fateful Friday evening, was the fact that he would become one of the names on a list of suspects for the brutal murder of one Dr. Amos Loeb.
Peter Maeck’s pedigree speaks for itself when it comes to knowing how to pen a great novel—a novelist, poet, and playwright. He also followed the golden rule when it comes to penning the quintessential murder: deliver the body within the first handful of pages. Suffice it to say, Maeck effortlessly delivers the goods within this timeframe. There is a signature tone that resonates with intention when evaluating Maeck’s writing style. It’s a combination of Sam Spade private eye speak that is complemented with infectious humor: "...And these alums would all want to shake Dr. Loeb’s hand for bestowing such honor upon their beloved alma mater. Well, most of the alums would. A persnickety few would denounce him for ‘modernizing’ this venerable institution; for imposing a parvenu political correctness that rejected what had made the college great..." (Page 11) Maeck has nailed the ABC’s of rich character development. He describes Dr. Loeb’s wife as the devoted woman who is at his beck and call to serve whenever she is commanded to do so. I formulated an instant mental image of a somewhat milk toast of a woman given Maeck’s ability to ‘show’ versus ‘tell.’ The good professor’s character is layered and nuanced with more than an arrogant flair to his persona, yet the sublime contradiction often played out is he really isn’t ‘all that.’ Yet, in the next scene, virtually every woman on campus (and off) wants to sleep with him and it’s quite comical how each character has a unique light that sets her apart from her competition. The dialogue is beyond rich and completely relatable and the pace of this story is rife with page-turning ease. An ample amount of seeds are planted along the story’s trail to determine just exactly who murdered Dr. Loeb, yet what the reader may surmise is the obvious answer finds that same reader quickly knocked off his or her feet in the next chapter. I am a fan and applaud Maeck for writing a truly engaging and quite humorous mystery. I only have one request: may I have another, please?
Quill says: Zänker is the kind of book that effortlessly draws its audience in on page one and refuses to let go until the very last page has been read.
For more information on Zänker: Murder is Academic, please visit the author's website at: http://www.petermaeck.com/