There are some writers who never do the same thing twice. Two books is probably not enough to say there is a pattern, but it was a surprise to find the follow up to Adam Oyebanji’s space opera debut Braking Day is a contemporary murder mystery with a bit of spy thriller thrown in for good measure. A Quiet Teacher is an amateur detective mystery set in an exclusive Pittsburgh school, where the detective has more than one skeleton in his closet and plenty of good reasons not to get involved.
The cold open of A Quiet Teacher is not the murder. Rather, the book opens on a man running from some pursuers, who seem to have tortured him, by jumping into the harbour in Djibouti. Cut to the present day and Greg Abimbola is teaching Russian to entitled teenagers in Calderhill Academy, a high end Pittsburgh secondary school. He is also being hauled over the coals by one of the more vocal mothers at the school for daring to give her daughter a B in Russian. It is that mother who will the next morning, be found stabbed in the school’s maintenance room. Greg, who can’t seem to help himself, agrees to help Andrea, one of the school maintenance workers who has been accused of the murder, clear her name. In doing so he calls on an old contact and brings himself to the attention of Morosov, the GRU agent who he escaped from three years before and who is bent on revenge.
This is a strange amalgam of two genres. The murder mystery itself is fairly standard but well handled. There are plenty of suspects, well placed clues and a clever reveal. Along the way, Oyerbanji gets to explore issues of class, racism, entitlement, ambition (of parents for their children) and sexuality. The spy thriller element adds an interesting layer to Greg’s story, gives him some insight through a hacker that he might not otherwise be able to get but it does not really impinge or interact with the main story. It is almost there just to give Oyerbanji a bit more to work with in Greg’s character.
Through his background, which is really only lightly sketched out, Abimbola seems to at least have some interrogation skills and connections that give him the capacity to work on this murder. As one of only two Black teachers at the school, Abimbola also has to deal with casual and systemic racism. He has plenty of secrets, including a repressed sexuality which is the element that is dealt with in a fairly heavy handed way as it conflicts with his seemingly deep faith.
In the end, Oyerbanji manages to keep all of his balls in the air. This is an engaging mystery with a fascinating, conflicted but versatile main character. And while it may be that Oyerbanji will pivot again to something completely different there is still more to discover about Greg, his history and his world, and the door has been left open for more.