Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Murder at the MLA:Review

Murder and mayhem have taken over the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association--schmoozing ground and meat market where, primarily, English professors and graduate students go to network, interview for jobs, and present papers and speak on panels.  At the time Murder at the MLA was written by D J H Jones, this four-day conference took place (inconveniently) between Christmas and New Years (it has since been moved to the days following the New Year holiday).   The book's MLA session is being hosted by the Windy City and Chicago's Hotel Fairfax soon regrets allowing the MLA to use its rooms as the hub for conference.  Beginning with an obnoxious senior professor who takes a nose-dive from the 10th floor atrium balcony, faculty members from various universities are soon leaving the hotel feet-first at an alarming rate.

Chicago police detective Boaz Dixon knows that he has entered a different world with a language all its own and decides that he'll need a guide (and translator) if he's going to get to the bottom of these seemingly unrelated deaths.  In the course of his investigations, he meets Nancy Cook, an assistant professor at Yale, who willing agrees to serve as his MLA tour guide.  Sifting through the evidence together, Nancy finally spots the pattern hidden among the faculty from Wellesley, the Universities of Arizona and South Dakota, and John Hopkins.  But will her knowledge help Dixon catch the killer before another college loses a professor?

This is a very decent academic mystery.  I particularly like the interactions between Nancy and Boaz--although the romance is a bit predictable...and moves just a bit quickly.  The average mystery fan may be put off by Nancy's long discourses on the politics and trends within the English Departments of the late 80s/early 90s.  The important bits (for clues) could definitely have been given much more succinctly and could still have been camouflaged without going into such detail.   For someone who currently lives in that world (albeit a later version), the satire and representations are spot on--I can say that similar posturing and power plays go on now.  The trends may be different and the players may come in different varieties, but it's still there.   A fun, light read--no heavy lifting in the puzzle department (and for those who have been in the academic world, the motive will come as no surprise).  Three stars.


Peter Reynard said...

The title reminds me so much of Asimov's Murder at the ABA.

Bev Hankins said...

Not quite as good as Asimov....Asimov is a MUCH better writer.