Peace Corps Writers

Murder at Ocean View College
by Karen Batchelor (Korea 1972–74)
Houghton Mifflin
March 2006
91 pages

Reviewed by Darcy Meijer (Gabon 1982–84)

AS TEACHER OF ENGLISH as a Second Language, I can heartily recommend Murder at Ocean View College for community collegePrinter friendly version students, adult learners of ESL and remedial readers of English.
Author Karen Batchelor has carefully constructed a simple plot in Murder. Jade Lee and Danny Soto, student police officers at Ocean View College, discover the body of English teacher Ms. Quinn wedged between filing cabinets in her office. They follow a steady trail of clues to the prime suspects and, finally, a fitting end. Batchelor fleshes out the detective action with realistic subplots which most students will understand, involving romance, jealousy, school pressures, strong friendships and immigrant family issues.
 Murder at Ocean View College has 91 pages in 32 chapters, each with a neat, discussable chunk of action and dialogue. Batchelor does not digress, and the vocabulary is well-chosen and embedded in plenty of context. Sentences are clear and direct, and most verbs are in the simple past tense. The action progresses evenly. Batchelor uses light comic touches and subplots to relieve the growing suspense.
Readers have loved the novel, with its focus on action and dialogue. Fellow reviewer and teacher June McKay says of Murder: “Teachers who used the book in its prepublication form were consistently positive. An instructor who used it with high beginners said, ‘There is new vocabulary, but it is not overwhelming. Several students, of their own initiative, finished the book right away.’ Another instructor, who used it with high intermediate students, commented: ‘Students devoured the novel.’”
Batchelor has included lead-ins for classroom exercises throughout her mystery. Chapter 3 ends with Jade wondering who could have committed the murder. I would ask my students to list their suspects, along with motives and means. As chapter 16 closes, Danny is brainstorming how to deal with three other characters. My students would discuss this orally or in writing, using the new terms. Chapter 27 is a pure narrative, which students could act out, retell or do as a cloze text. In chapter 32 we learn that the murderer has confessed. Students could write out the statement or speak it before the class.
I liked Murder at Ocean View College a great deal and will probably use it in my ESL content courses. Batchelor has been a teacher for 30 years at City College in San Francisco and has co-written eight ESL textbooks, and her experience shows. This murder mystery has filled a big gap in ESL reading materials. I am eager to read more from this writer.

Darcy Meijer is a teacher of English as a Second Language at the Center for English Language Learning (CELL) at Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee. Since teaching EFL in Gabon, she has notched 24 years as a teacher of English composition, ESL and EFL. She has just completed a ten-month Fulbright grant training teachers of English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
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