Rosemary Stubbs
(creator: Clare Munnings)

Jill Ker Conway
Rosemary Stubbs had been chief financial officer at a New York computer firm. She had been happily married but her husband, Jim, had been drowned in a storm while out sailing. "After Jim died," she explains, "I began going to church again. It didn't matter. The loneliness was the same. But I couldn't go back to being a CFO". So, soon after her 35th birthday, she had given up her job to enter Yale Divinity School "as an experiment, I suppose". Aged 38, she had finished her course and did not know what she should do next. Then she was invited to become chaplain at Sanderson, a women's liberal arts college in Vermont.

Her appearance is described as "under six feet but still tall, fairish hair brushed back off the face, hazel eyes, mouth slightly too wide for the pointed chin. Too tailored, maybe, But there was no getting around it. She couldn't look trendy if she tried".

Clare Munnings is the nom-de-plume of Jill Ker Conway and Elizabeth Topham Kennan. Jill Ker Conway (1934- ) was born and raised, along with her two brothers, at Coorain in the remote Australian outback. It was a hard and lonely life with no schooling beyond that provided by her mother and a governess. It is described in her much praised autobiography, The Road from Coorain. Eventually she was admitted to the University of Sydney where she read History and English and graduated in 1958. She subsequently earned a PhD at Harvard, where she met the Canadian professor, who became her husband. He died in 1995. She taught at the University of Toronto, then became the first woman president of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, a private liberal arts college and the largest women's college in the USA. She was there from 1975-1985. She has written numerous books, but Overnight Float was her first attempt at mystery writing.

Elizabeth Topham Keenan is a fellow academic. She earned a BA in History from Mount Holyoke, an MA from Oxford, and a PhD from the University of Washington. She became president of Mount Holyoke College for 17 years, then retired in 1995 to devote more time to the education of her mentally handicapped adult son. She translated Bernard of Clairvaux's Five Books on Consideration. She lives in Kentucky with her husband.

Overnight Float (2000)
Overnight Float was meant to be the first of a series of mysteries featuring Rosemary Stubbs, but the second volume never appeared. It would be interesting to learn why.

It is the story of how Rosemary came to be chaplain at Sanderson, a women's liberal arts college, and what she found there, including, eventually, two dead bodies, both apparently drowned. The college must be very similar, one supposes, to those of which the authors had been presidents. Indeed it is this inside knowledge of college life, with all its internal arguments and rivalries, that gives the story its strength. The authors are, as you would expect, good at describing such things as selection interviews, inter-department rivalries and the idiosycncrasies of members of staff.

Rosemary herself is no fervent evangelist. Indeed she has many a doubt about herself and her beliefs, but she is resolute and determined, and in the end is able to use her accounting skills to work out who the guilty party must be. She establishes good relationships with such students as seek her out, but had been warned at her appointment interview, "There's not much support among faculty for the chapel, and the students, well, they're deeply influenced by the faculty, of course". But she'd already met an eager group of students, and such cynicism just spurred her on into accepting the post.

She makes some good friends on the staff , and establishes friendly relations with Raphael Ramirez, the district's chief detective. She tells her good friend Kevin Oxley, professor of classics,"Having found Blanche (the first victim), I feel responsible. And the thought - even the remote thought - that someone might have killed her ... well, I can't tell whether it's despair or anger that has me, but the only way I can cure it is to find out." But she worries that "she'd fooled herself about her too easily embraced vocation ... She wasn't so certain herself about a divine order that encompassed that swollen gray figure in the water"'. But she is prepared to listen to the students and is soon accepted by at least some of them. But thoughts of the drowned bodies keep reminding her of her late husband's death, so when Kevin kisses her, and asks her to stay the night, she says, "It's too soon for me. Kevin." Then, later that night, asks herself, "Why was I such an idiot?" The authors have explained that they wanted to portray a woman's spiritual and emotional development, and in this book they really start to do so.

Until an intruder breaks into her office, there is neither much exciting action nor real detection, but nevertheless the story holds the interest. The authors are, as you'd expect, very literate, and even prepared to quote Sappho in the Greek. Altogether it makes a good introductory novel. What a pity that the projected later novels never followed!

There is an interesting interview with the two authors on the Holyoke College Street Journal site. There's also a brief biography of Jill Ker Conway on the Harvard Lamplighter site, and some useful information about Conway and Kennan on the Wikipedia site.

For remarkably inexpensive new copies of the book, look in Amazon (the reader's reviews there can also be of interest).




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Jill Ker Conway
Elizabeth Topham Kennan
Elizabeth Topham Kennan
Overnight Float cover
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