Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Beach House Book no.7 - 'The Vulcan Academy Murders' by Jean Lorrah


Encapsulate the book in one sentence?
While someone’s trying to bump off Spock’s mother as she lies in a coma Jim Kirk investigates a whole lot of mysterious Vulcan goings-on.

When did I buy it? Where and why did I buy it?
I’ve said it before. I’ve already confessed. One of my biggest guilty reading secrets is my love of Star Trek original novels. No, it’s not even a guilty pleasure. I’m loud and proud about this stuff. And I love them more than I ever loved the TV show in any of its incarnations. My first was back in 1984 and it was James Blish’s fabulous tale of accidental doppelgangers ‘Spock Must Die!’ and hardly a year has gone by without my having at least one trip back aboard the Enterprise.

Why is it something you stashed away and hoarded?
I think I bought this in the smashing Paramount Books on Shude Hill in Manchester a couple of years ago. He had a boxload of Star Treks for 89p each and this one was a title I’d been on the look-out for. Who could resist a Star Trek Whodunnit?

What year or edition?
It’s an early 90s British Titan reprint of a 1980s Pocket Book novel from the US, with which its shares its wonderfully lurid cover painting. What could be better than Spock leveling his stun gun at a giant green lizard cat?

What’s your verdict?
When it comes to Star Trek I find I prefer the books by the women – Diane Duane’s ‘Wounded Sky’ and Melinda Snodgrass’ ‘The Tears of the Singers’ and A.C Crispin’s ‘Yesterday’s Son’ are not only some of my favourite Trek books, they’re also some of my favourite books, period. I chime in more readily with novels that are less about the space-battles and the treaties and the whizzy technology than I do those about the friendships and relationships, the loyalties and back-stories. There was a lot for me to love about ‘The Vulcan Academy Murders’ – a great set-up, involving some of my favourite guest stars from the series (Spock’s parents); continuity that reached into not just the original show, but even the Animated Series, too – and lovely recreations of the colourful characters and atmosphere of the series I love.

Did you finish it? Did it work for you?
It’s a classic Whodunnit – mixed with a bit of hospital melodrama. It’s beautifully structured. Ok, so I guessed who the villain was almost straight away, but that didn’t lessen my pleasure in this novel one jot.

What genre would you say it is?
Technically, it’s Star Trek: The Original Series and an original novel from the 1980s Pocket Book days – contemporary with lots of my favourites. It’s a space opera like the rest of the series, but at its heart this is Golden Age Detective.

What surprises did it hold – if any?
For some reason I expected the mysticism of Vulcan to be a bit more heavy and drably unexciting. A bit like latterday Dune. But this didn’t muck about or get in the slightest bit pretentious. It was zippy and fun. I was surprised, however – delightfully – to learn that every single planet in the galaxy including Vulcan has an Italian restaurant. The cosy domestic scenes at home with pompous old Sarek were a nice counterbalance to the more po-faced stuff Star Trek often trots out to do with life on other planets.

What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?
Kirk in the desert at night drinking wine with a woman he thinks he’s seducing. She gets him drunk, pushes him off a cliff and clears off – leaving him at the mercy of a man-eating plant and a gigantic killer cat.

Have you read anything else by this author? Or anything this book reminds you of?
I’ve not read anything else by Jean Lorrah – though on the strength of this I’d like to read her other Treks, and to try her own original SF series.

What will you do with this copy now?
I think it’s a keeper. I’m bound to want to reread this. It might make it to the ‘comfort re-reading’ shelf – as many books about murder and outer space seem to…

Is it available today?
Not sure they’ve kept it in print – I suspect not. But it – and the others from the Pocket Book range, going right back to the start – are all available as e-books for £3.99, which was the price of Star Trek books when I first started reading them – back in the days of buying them in the legendary ‘Timeslip’ in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Give me a good quote:
“‘It’s a cool drink – probably the best damn drink in the galaxy. Tell you what – if Sarek and Amanda have any mint in that fancy greenhouse, I think we can scare up the rest of the ingredients in ShiKahr. When Amanda’s home again, maybe we’ll have a nice little party – and I’ll introduce you Vulcans to mint juleps.’”


  1. This sounds great, I'll definitely look out for it. Not sure about getting it on Kindle, though; these books need to be yellowing old paperbacks. I loved 'Spock Must Die!' but I mislaid my copy many moons ago. Probably lent it to someone and never got it back. I'm very fond of James Blish's novelisations of the episodes, too.

    I'm not so keen on mint juleps, though.

    1. Dan, I know just what you mean about the yellowed paperbacks. But I'm so glad some come back all new and virtual, as well. (I'd never be parted from my ancient copies though)

  2. Thank you for the lovely review! If anyone is interested, all four of my original Star Trek novels (the sequel to this one is The IDIC Epidemic, and there are two Next Gen books, Survivors and Metamorphosis) are available on Kindle. Many of my non-Trek novels are available as both tree and ebooks, all from Amazon. Jean Lorrah

    1. Thanks, Jean - and thank you for such a great novel. I'll be sure to read the others, too. Where's the best place for people to start with your non-Trek books?

    2. You wrote Metamorphosis? That was one of the first Trek novels I ever read. Loved it!

    3. Paul, I'd suggest starting my non-Trek books either with the standalone vampire novel Blood Will Tell, the Savage Empire books, or my contributions to Sime~Gen. I wrote Ambrov Keon and To Kiss or to Kill alone, and First Channel, Channel's Destiny, and Zelerod's Doom with Jacqueline Lichtenberg. All five of those books are designed to allow someone who has never before read a Sime~Gen book to start there, as we began the series in the days when books routinely went out of print, and we did not want to lose potential readers who could not find earlier books. Times have now changed because of ebooks, and the book I'm writing at the moment, The Nameless, does assume some familiarity with the Sime~Gen Universe. Learn more at .

      Daniel, I'm glad you enjoyed Metamorphosis--Data was my favorite Next Gen character. My other Next Gen Trek novel, Survivors, also focuses on him.

    4. Now I think on it, Metamorphosis was actually the very first Trek novel I read, as a kid. Then I got a bundle of three - Spock Must Die! plus a TOS novel called Mind Meld and, I think, a TNG called Infiltrator. How I remember this when I can't remember what I did at work yesterday, I do not know.

      I've gone and ordered paperbacks of Survivors and The IDIC Epidemic. Like I need more books...