Three original, droll, startling tales of horror in academia, by the author of the novel The Wild Colonial Boy (1990). Things go disastrously wrong for the very matter-of-fact academics who inhabit Hynes's world. The hero of ``Queen of the Jungle,'' a middle-aged professor in Iowa whose contract is about to run out, is a good example. Married to a tenure-track wife who commutes four days a week to her job in Chicago, he putters about haplessly in the sticks, writing a study of popular culture—``My (M)other the Car: Difference and Memory in Matriarchal Narrative''— and sleeping with one of his graduate students. He's content to let things go on in this fashion indefinitely, and they probably would, but for his wife's preternaturally devious cat: Ever since he brought his mistress into the house, it seems, the cat has harbored some plan of revenge in her feline mind, and she succeeds in finally exposing him to his wife as the fraud that he is. ``99'' is a classic innocents-abroad tale, in which an American anthropologist traveling in England discovers, to his delight, an ancient Druidic cult in a remote village. Giddy with excitement at the thought of the fame he can command with his findings, he doesn't realize until the very end that he's learned a bit too much about human sacrifice for his own good. ``Casting the Runes'' offers another comic and original variation on the theme of revenge. A put-upon historian sets out to expose a colleague as a plagiarist—and discovers that there is a more malign (and occult) explanation for his actions than she would ever have surmised. Witty and penetrating: Hynes creates pungent satires of academic life while at the same time infusing them with genuine suspense and real terror.
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