Maggie Barbieri's "Final Exam" is the fourth in a series of breezy mysteries featuring Alison Bergeron, a professor of English at St. Thomas, a small college located north of New York City. Alison's penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time has gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion. Her best friend at St. Thomas is a maverick priest, Father Ken McManus, who also treads on thin ice with his superiors. Fortunately, Alison frequently gets a chance to let her hair down with her hunky boyfriend, Detective Bobby Crawford.
Much to Alison's displeasure, the college president railroads her into temporarily leaving her home in Dobbs Ferry (where her best girlfriend, Max, is licking her wounds after separating from her husband), and moving into a college dorm. She is to replace Wayne Brookwell, a twenty-six year old Resident Director who has suddenly disappeared. Alison's frenzied protests fall on deaf ears. The only concession she manages to wrangle out of President Etheridge is that Trixie, her beloved golden retriever, will move into the dorm with her. In addition, living on campus will eliminate Alison's tedious commute and give her much needed space from the morose Max. One thing is certain. No matter how many times Bobby warns Alison not to investigate on her own, she will move heaven and earth to find Wayne Brookwell.
"Final Exam" is a light and amusing confection. Alison has a deliciously sarcastic perspective on everything and everyone, and her inability to curb her curiosity gets her into hot water repeatedly. The razor-thin plot is a mishmash in which drugs and a love triangle feature prominently. At one point, Alison impersonates a flight attendant named Coco (don't ask). She gets to spend a great deal of face time with both her dog and her boyfriend, both of whom she adores. All of the silliness is bearable because Barbieri does not take herself too seriously. With her tongue firmly in cheek, the author carries us merrily along as Alison tries to turn her topsy-turvy world right side up once again.