Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Edith Wharton Murders (1997)

I had so much fun reading this mystery by Lev Raphael and I am going to keep my eyes open for more of his books.

Nick Hoffman is a professor at SUM (State University of Michigan) and lives with his lover Stefan, a writer who also works at SUM. At a department meeting it is proposed that the university host a conference about Edith Wharton. Nick had published a bibliography about her and is named as the perfect person to organize it. He would love to get tenure and fears that refusing this task would ruin his chances at getting it. One of his reservations about this conference is that Wharton scholars are polarized into two opposing groups; the Edith Wharton Association and the Wharton Collective. As it happens, this should have been the least of his fears.

The writing of this book is intelligent and clever without being condescending and has a delightful sense of humor, possibly due to the fact that the main character is gay.

I wanted to smile when I listened to the paper given by Gustaf Carmichael. He ignored Wharton entirely to discuss an unknown Swiss woman novelist, Greta Inderbitzen, who was Wharton's contemporary and might even have met her in Paris. Around the small room I could sense how baffled and jealous the audience was. Carmichael was doing the ultimate act of academic one-upmanship by chamioning a writer no one had heard of or read.
He could make whatever claims for Inderbitzen's novels (all thirty-eight of them!) he wanted and no one could challenge him. It wasn't any more sophisticated, really, than a little kid sticking his tongue out and mocking his peers with a singsong "Nanny, nanny poo-poo!"
He was such a weasel in his leather pants and Vatican City T-shirt.

I liked Nick and his friends and I appreciated how he struggled with strident homophobes and the competitive life of a university professor. I hope other mystery fans will get as much of a kick out of this book as I did.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

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