Professor Louis Brade is a middle-aged chemistry professor whose biggest problem is his ongoing struggle for tenure. But his life gets much more complicated when one of his students, Ralph Neufeld, is found dead in the research lab. Outward signs point to an accident; Ralph was preparing an experiment at the time, and he might have accidentally used a poisonous chemical instead of the identical-looking harmless one. But Professor Brade knows that Ralph was a meticulous chemist who would never have made such a mistake. He is reluctant to voice his suspicion that Ralph was murdered, however — especially when it becomes clear that Brade himself is a promising suspect. Can Brade discover the cause of Ralph’s death, clear his name, and avoid becoming the murderer’s next victim?
I was surprised and delighted to discover that Isaac Asimov also wrote detective novels! And I have to say, I was very impressed with this mystery. I enjoyed the academic setting, and although chemistry plays a large role in the story, it’s very easy for non-scientists to follow as well. I also liked Brade as a main character, mostly because of how normal he is compared to other fictional detectives: He’s an intelligent but not brilliant professor, and he has a happy-ish marriage that nevertheless has its fair share of conflict. Finally, I really loved the policeman in this case, whose breezy manner conceals a very sharp mind. The interplay between the policeman and Brade was one of my favorite parts of the book. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this to fans of older mysteries, and I plan to look for more of Asimov’s detective stories.