Death in a Tenured Position (1981) was the weakest mystery yet for academia's Kate Fansler--but it did have the bright repartee and flashing intelligence that have become Cross trademarks. This new outing, alas, is weak on both plot and atmosphere: the wall-to-wall talk here is more strained than witty, more lugubrious than thoughtful. Kate has been summoned to Wellesley-like Clare College--ostensibly to join a task force on Gender Studies, actually to look into the death of Clare's famous, unorthodox historian/novelist, Patrice Umphelby. Did Patrice, who was in favor of old-age suicide, drown herself? If so, why--since she was a vigorous widow of 58? (There's a suicide note alluding to Charlotte Perkins Gilman.) Kate talks to Patrice's colleagues--some loved her, most hated her; there's much discussion of Patrice's unadorned, saint-like lifestyle and philosophy--with broodings on middle/old age by almost everyone. And Kate finally decides that Patrice was murdered--fingering the laughably-motivated culprits and uncovering an implausible, morbid murder-method. Some readers may be satisfied with the literary allusions, the feminist concerns, and the academic satire (which lacks the bite it had in previous Cross novels). Most, however, will find this slow, self-conscious going--with a downright amateurish solution waiting at the end.