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THE HORNED MAN by James Lasdun

THE HORNED MAN

By James Lasdun

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-00336-1
Publisher: Norton

An intricate thriller about a college professor pursued by an unknown enemy, in a well-crafted debut novel from poet and short-story writer Lasdun (Three Evenings, 1992, etc.).

Lawrence Miller gets paid to keep his eyes and ears open. A professor of gender studies at Arthur Clay College in New York, he sits on the college’s sexual harassment committee and reviews complaints dealing with inappropriate behavior among faculty and students. The committee’s proceedings tend to resemble those of a Star Chamber rather than a court of law, and Miller feels perfectly comfortable in bringing private (and anonymous) accusations of his own against certain professors on campus. Although the committee has a pretty free hand, its interventions have occasionally backfired—as in the case of the celebrated Bulgarian poet Bogomil Trumilcik, who denounced the committee and left the college in a huff when he was accused of making undue advances toward his students some years ago. Although the Trumilcik case transpired before Miller’s arrival on campus, strange coincidences have lately made Miller suspicious that Trumilcik may be stalking him, or at least using Miller’s office after-hours: Miller keeps finding inexplicable telephone calls on his bill, and documents by Trumilcik appear and vanish from his computer. Miller also learns that the woman who occupied the office before him was murdered in a bizarre case that has remained unsolved by the police. When Elaine Jordan, another committee member, suddenly disappears, Miller concludes that something is definitely amiss. But who’s the culprit? As Miller’s paranoia mounts, he begins to take the investigation into his own hands, even at one point entering a battered-women’s shelter in drag to pursue a clue. When the answer arrives, it is likely to prove as much a shock to the reader as it is to Miller himself.

Somewhat slow in setting his scenes, Lasdun nonetheless creates a vivid and terrifying account that gains intensity from momentum—and ultimately proves quite surprising in its denouement.