Nick Hoffman, the crime-solving Edith Wharton scholar who's starred in three previous mysteries by Lev Raphael, still doesn't have tenure. His boyfriend Stefan's position in the English department at the State University of Michigan is a little more secure, but Stefan's career as a novelist is stalled in traffic, and the appointment of the gratuitously nasty Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Camille Cypriani--"a cross between Anita Brookner and Judith Krantz"--to a newly endowed chair in the department isn't doing much for their relationship. But that may also have something to do with the strange attraction that Nick, who's never been sexually interested in women, suddenly feels for Juno Dromgoole, the outsized and outrageous professor who's counting on his support in her quest for chairmanship of the department.
The English and Rhetoric faculty are already in an uproar over downgrades in status and pay, and on the heels of Camille's controversial appointment, a rumor that a new department of "White Studies" is in the offing sweeps the campus, further highlighting the intense rivalries and petty politics of the university. Then Camille is strangled with a leopard-print scarf that looks suspiciously like Juno's, and Nick's own life is threatened. It falls to Nick's cousin Sharon, a plucky woman whose problems are a lot graver than academic infighting, to point him in the right direction and wrap up the somewhat muddled plot.
Raphael is fast with the wisecracks and heavy with the references to pop culture. He's clearly spent a lot of time watching slasher movies and reading suspense thrillers, which fits neatly with the oversubscribed class Nick teaches on the mystery novel but detracts from the narrative's pacing. It may be time for Raphael to take Nick out of the ivied halls and put his smarts to work in another setting. But if murder in the groves of academe is your thing, consider Little Miss Evil as an extra credit assignment. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
Professor Nick Hoffman's fall semester gets off to a rocky start in the fourth of Raphael's amusing academic mysteries (The Death of a Constant Lover, etc.). When arrogant, bestselling author Camille Cypriani, "a cross between Anita Brookner and Judith Krantz," receives an endowed chair at the State University of Michigan, the normally rancorous English department turns into a festering zone of envy and resentment. The high-salaried appointee's office displaces a beloved, small library, while other professors are shunted to windowless quarters in the basement. Meanwhile, someone in the department is harassing Nick with threatening messages and vandalism; his lover, Stefan, the writer-in-residence, is in a funk over Camille's appointment and his own less-than-stellar sales; Nick's favorite cousin is facing risky surgery to remove a tumor near her brain; and Nick himself becomes confused when he finds himself attracted to the loud and sexy (and very female) professor of Canadian literature. The campus situation worsens when the university president speaks out for the creation of a Department of White Studies, setting off faculty and student protests. Nick and Stefan survive the upheaval in style and solve the inevitable murder of the resented new colleague. This satire of academia is an enjoyable diversion, despite its uneven, late-developing plot, its flat characterizations of Nick's co-workers-cum-murder suspects, and its author's tendency to stud his prose with glib name-dropping instead of substantive detail. Agent, Curtis Brown Ltd. (May)
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