Carole Shmurak, Author of The Susan Lombardi Mysteries

Discussion Questions and Excerpt from Deadmistress

© 2004
by Carole B. Shmurak



1) Is Susan too close to the victim and the suspects to maintain her objectivity as a detective?

2) Susan now works at a state university, whereas her former teaching position was at an elite private school. How differently are the two schools portrayed by the author?

3) How did the book’s setting(s) affect the story?

4) Did your feelings about the victim, Sabena, change over the course of the story?

5) Did you guess correctly who the murderer was, and when in the story did you guess it? Did the author “play fair”?

6) How did you react to Mark’s romantic overtures towards Susan, and how did you feel about her handling of the situation?

7) Susan’s husband “works” from home. Does this help or hinder her as a detective?

8) Was justice obtained at the end of the book?

9) What do you think happened to the main characters after the book ended?

10) Whom would you cast in a movie version of this story?



…And so it was that Mark and I found ourselves sitting in his little Metro on Academy Street late one February night. From this position we could keep our eyes on Brook Street, where Rob and the Trouts lived. We could also detect any movement down from Dormitory Hill. It was a clear, cold night, and we were both bundled up in turtlenecks and down jackets.

Naturally, Swash had been less than overjoyed about my accompanying Mark on this late night excursion. For my part, I was feeling a little disappointed at Swash’s failure to support my latest whim. This is undoubtedly why, as Mark and I huddled together in the cold, I felt a new sensation pass between us. Mark understood me. Mark understood the adventure of our quest. Mark….

Mark was caressing my hair, my neck.


I pulled away.

“This is not good,” I said. “It’s definitely not good for the relationship.”

“Which relationship?” he asked softly.

“Yours and mine. Our professional relationship. Teacher, student. Co-investigators. Mine and Swash’s . All of the above.” I was babbling.

“Mmmmm,” he said, nuzzling closer.

Suddenly, I saw a figure moving down Dormitory Hill.

“Mark, give me the binoculars!”

Mark backed away quickly and reached for the binoculars. I grabbed them and got a closer look.

The girl headed behind the faculty houses. As she passed beneath a campus light, I could just make out her face and long dark hair. It was Mandy Lewis, Wintonbury senior and friend of Nini Westmore.

Mandy! That meant that Rob Fleming was “the slime.”

Well, I always knew that.



“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Joseph L. Mankiewicz , All About Eve


I reached for the handle of the car door, ready to pursue Mandy across campus if need be. But Mark held my arm.

“Don’t go after her!” he warned in a hoarse whisper. “You don’t know yet where’s she’s going. Sit tight and watch.”

He was right, of course. So we sat. We didn’t talk. We stared out the windows, carefully avoiding looking at one another. We saw Mandy go behind Rob’s house and enter the back door, obviously left unlocked. We sat some more.

At a few minutes after midnight, the front porch light went on at John deHavilland’s house across the street. What was this? John should be asleep or in bed reading a history book.

It was Barbara Gordon, the chemistry teacher, and she was reaching up to kiss someone good-night. Hmm. John hadn’t told me about this. Or was this the first time? Was there something erotic in the air this frigid February night? I tried not to think about that.

“Wow! What busy faculty they have here!” whispered Mark, smiling broadly.

“Shh!” I hissed.

Barbara strode briskly down Brook Street and turned into the path leading up the hill. I knew she had a small apartment in one of the dormitories. Barbara and John? Well, perhaps he was not as alone as I’d assumed.

Twenty minutes later, we saw the light turn on in Harry Trout’s kitchen. Why was everyone up so late? They had early morning classes to teach.

“Must be insomniac Harry,” I said. “He’s going for his warm milk. Or a shot of whiskey.”

“Or maybe he’s just going to spy on Rob Fleming. See, the light’s out again, but you can still see him standing there.” Mark pointed into the darkness.

I could dimly make out Harry’s stocky silhouette behind the kitchen door.

“The old busybody!”

Mark chuckled. “What does that make us, Susan?”

My answer was an elbow in his ribs.

“Ouch! The woman has no sense of humor! Good thing I’m wearing this down jacket.”

“Shh. Look!”

A shadowy figure was moving behind the houses again. This time Mark didn’t restrain me. I shoved the car door open and ran quickly across the backyards. I overtook her easily.

“Mandy!” I gasped, grabbing at her arm. She tried to pull away, but I held firmly to her. “It’s Dr. Lombardi. I’m not going to report you. Just talk to me a minute.”

She looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Eyes open wide, she stood shivering in the cold night air. I pulled her into an unlighted area so that Harry, if he were still watching, couldn’t see our faces.

“Dr. Lombardi! Why are you here? Please don’t tell anyone!” Tears began to form in her eyes.

“I already said I won’t report you, Mandy. Although I do agree with Nini that you shouldn’t be seeing that sleaze.”

“Slime,” Mandy corrected.

“Whatever. The point is he is a rotten little person.”

“But so handsome and romantic. He….”

“Ugh. Don’t tell me about it.” I shuddered. “You need to get back to your dorm right away. Will you have trouble getting back in?”

“No, we have a system worked out. Nini will let me in.”

“Okay, Mandy, I’ll let you go, and I won’t tell anyone about this.”

“Oh, thank you, Dr. Lombardi!”

I held her arm tightly. “But you must promise to talk to me tomorrow afternoon when I’m back on campus.”

“Oh, please!” she said. “No lectures on safe sex.”

“Good lord, I hope that’s not necessary. No, I want to talk about the night of Dr. Lazlo’s murder.”

“But I didn’t see anything that night!”

“So you were out that night. That’s what I thought.” Mark had told me that people often reveal more than you ask, but I was impressed with my sleuthing skills nonetheless. “Promise that you’ll meet me at Nifty’s tomorrow at four.”

“Okay, Dr. Lombardi. I promise.”

I gave her one last searching look. She seemed earnest, so I let her go. As she hurried away toward the dormitories, I returned to the car, keeping to the shadows as much as possible to avoid Harry’s snooping eyes.

“Mission accomplished,” I said to Mark as I got back in the car. “Let’s go.”

As Mark drove me home, we talked about Mandy and what I should ask her the next day. We studiously avoided discussing what had transpired between us.

Swash was already asleep when I came in. It was just as well. I had a lot of thinking to do.



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