As if the State University of Michigan weren't already full enough of misfits and malcontents, a conference on Edith Wharton promises to pipe more in from across the country. Reluctant conference organizer Nick Hoffman is sure that the invited guests--rival Wharton scholars Van Deegan Jones (of the offensively insular old guard) and Verity Gallup (of the offensively irresponsible new), trendy punk novelist Chloe DeVore and her current lover Vivianne Fresnel, bestselling trashy romancer/aspiring Wharton biographer Grace-Dawn Vaughan and her professor-baiting editor Devon Davenport--will mix so well with the home-grown cargo of covetous academics, spineless administrators, and born-again trustees that they'll all be delighted when the conference is history. But even Nick is surprised when Chloe DeVore is bashed to death with one of the attractive new granite tiles being installed at the conference site, and a throng of new suspects (a lesbian colleague hoping to break up Chloe's on-again affair with Vivianne! a novelist prostrated by Chloe's dismissive review! a fortuitous ex-husband!) come leaping into the spotlight with all the spontaneity and emotional expressiveness of the Rockettes. As in Nick's debut (Let's Get Criminal, 1996), criminal investigation takes a backseat to catty gossip as the narrator outdoes the characters by trashing authors as diverse as David Baldacci and Eve K. Sedgwick. Except for the murders, the conference turns out pretty well.