Death by Dissertation by Kelly Brakenhoff

Title: Death by Dissertation (Cassandra Sato #1)

Author: Kelly Brakenhoff

Published on: 22 April 2019

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Cassandra Sato is a Japanese-American and Hawaiian born and bred. She moved to Morton College at rural Nebraska for her dream job. A deaf student is found dead on the campus. Sato’s boss and President of the college is on a tour so it is up to Sato to handle the media and the investigations.

Soon, it becomes clear a cancer research center might have a hand to play in the death of the student. Meanwhile, someone is harassing Cassandra and she also gets ‘the look’ at the supermarket and elsewhere. Homesickness, racist remarks and a murder, did Cassandra make the wrong decision in leaving Hawaii?

Death by Dissertation is the first book in Cassandra Sato Cozy Mystery series by Kelly Brakenhoff.

I have mixed opinions about this book. I liked the setting and the mystery behind the murder. But I cannot say the same about the character portrayal and the dialogs. I felt the dialogs were a tad lengthy and boring. Also, Meg and Cassandra switch between American English and Hawaiian dialect – at times, the switch felt abrupt.


I really liked the emphasis on deaf students and how their college life is different from normal students. Meg is an ASL interpreter and Sato’s best friend. Throughout the story, we are given details of Sato’s past. When it comes to matters of the heart, as the story ends, it is pretty obvious Sato has not one but two possible suitors.

Coming to the mystery, the spotlight on cancer research was very good. Campus food service and the research lab are connected. A little deviation here with Sato solving another mystery. The mystery surrounding the death of a student gets murkier with each passing day. Cassandra experiences the ups and downs of being in the spotlight. The downs includes Cassandra possibly having to lose her job. We do get to see the emotional side of Cassandra at times – it’s overwhelming for her to manage everything. Especially when some people around her are not co-operative.

Overall, the story was a little lengthy and slow paced. I had trouble following some of the characters, at times, Cassandra Sato too. Having said that, I will be reading the next book in this series. As a series debut, I must take into consideration the fact that character introduction and outlining the series plot takes precedence over mystery.

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