Leggett (Prosperity, 2014, etc.) delivers a murder mystery that also skewers university politics.
Chancellor Michael Joseph O’Connor of Western Appalachian University in Knoxville, Tennessee, is facing a crisis. Just three weeks before the university’s budget is to be approved, the corpse of J. Hollis Sanders, head of the English Department, is found in Sanders’ office, and he’s evidently has been dead for a week. O’Connor wants to minimize any scandal that might arise from the inevitable investigation. Speaking with his colleagues, he echoes one of the narrative’s major themes: “There’s nothing more uninteresting than a dead man. What’s interesting is how he got to be dead.” His goal is to “keep the story as uninteresting as possible.” Unfortunately, the hastily assembled administrators decide to hire a man named Robert Cory to act as a liaison between the campus police and the Knoxville police and to manage all press releases. He’s told not to investigate the crime, but, of course, that’s exactly what he does. Cory is independently wealthy and a bit of a hermit; since his divorce, he’s retreated from all his friends, but Jack Abbott, one formerly close buddy, is a member of the English department, so he figures that there’s no harm in talking to him about the dead man. Leggett has chosen the perfect setting for a novel filled with gossip, speculation, and engaging philosophical debate. It’s great fun to follow along with Cory as he winds his way through a university and encounters fragile egos, back-stabbing, and secret foibles. O’Connor accurately describes his faculty to the Inspector of Campus Safety and Security: “these are very sensitive, perceptive people. They’re accustomed to reading more into things than is actually there—they call it literary criticism.” Cory confronts his own demons during this quest to discover the truth about the murder, and he makes a fine guide for readers as he does so.
A first-class whodunit and a witty, clever, and delightful read.