Reviewed by Robert Runté
Murdering Mr. Edwards has been sitting on my To Be Read pile for a while as an e-book, but I recently found there is an audiobook version, so I re-bought it in that format. I probably listen to books as often as read them these days. It is not just that one can listen on long drives or at night in bed when too tired to read, but that one can listen whilst doing household chores. That last is life-changing because audiobooks make one a better spouse, parent, or housemate. Instead of thinking, “Who left this mess in the sink?” or “Why am I always the one cleaning up after the dog?!” one is too busy focusing on the mystery or adventure, or laughing at the comedy, to resent how unfair and annoying chores are. Laughter is so much better for relationships than contemplating murder.
Most effective, of course, is laughing at others contemplating murder. Shawn Bird’s Murdering Mr. Edwards is wincingly satisfying as various colleagues each plot their separate devious end to the insufferable Chair of the English Department. I don’t care where you went to high school, every school has at least one Mr. Edwards (though not always the English Chair, of course) and you may be surprised to learn it is not just the students who hate that guy.
Bird—herself an outstanding English teacher—polled her staff colleagues on how they would go about committing murder at school, and the result is a collection of ingenious scenarios with both the motives and the murderous plots laid out in convincing detail. Indeed, I am beginning to think the police should reopen as suspicious any cases of teachers found dead in a school after hours because . . . um, yeah.
The stories are each amusing, and the overall arc holding the 12 tales together is completely satisfying. I greatly admire how Bird managed to create a series of stories that can each stand on their own and yet fit smoothly together to create a whole even greater than the parts. I laughed out loud, for example, when the caretaker's story tied the first eight stories together in a completely unexpected way. The stories just kept getting better and better.
Bird obviously had a blast writing these and the listener gets to share that joy, but to fully appreciate all the nuances, it helps to hear her read it. Humour is often best performed by the originator, and Bird provides an authentic and convincing voice when taking on the persona of her various female protagonists, as each in turn decides to end the detestable Mr. Edwards. Professional actor Chris Humphreys is equally wonderful reading the stories of the male teachers . . . and his voice characterization of Mr. Edwards is absolutely definitive.
It is also rare to find a book which so accurately captures—if very slightly exaggerated—the interpersonal politics of every school staff room. As someone whose day job took him into dozens of school staff rooms across the province every year, I can attest that Bird’s depiction really resonates. If you ever wondered as a student what went on behind the staff room door, this is the book for you; and if you number any teachers among your friends, this would make a great cathartic gift for them.
I recommend Murdering Mr. Edwards in any format, but consider trying the audiobook (a reasonable $5.99US on Chirp) to see whether that helps make chores less burdensome. Lintusen Press is Bird’s own imprint, but has recently expanded to include themed anthologies featuring other Canadian authors (Finnian Burnett, Halli Reed, Lee F. Patrick, Nancy Kilpatrick, etc.) worth exploring.