Raphael’s fourth continues his oh-so-bitchy and totally, totally true peek at the petty little lives of the petty little professors in a non-grant producing department at the fictional State University of Michigan (SUM). Already snubbed by higher-ups, including dimwitted President Littleterry and loathsome Dean Bullerschmidt, the faculty of the English and Rhetoric (EAR) department find themselves further beset by the appointment of cruel and imperious Camille Cypriani, best-selling novelist, to a newly-created chaired professorship. Cypriani’s conquest of the department library, which she converts into an office befitting her august station, doesn’t really bother lowly nontenured Nick Hoffman (The Death of a Constant Lover, 1999, etc.)—even though his occasional sleuthing has got him exiled to the basement along with Byron Summerscale, former chair of Western Civilization, which was unceremoniously merged with EAR by a cost-conscious administration. But her supplanting Nick’s lover, Stefan, as SUM’s leading literary light makes him seethe. As does a series of anonymous threats—death wishes under his windshield wiper, a scorched volume of Dante in his mailbox, and a torched copy of his Wharton bibliography in his wastebasket. Still, his colleagues are too busy stabbing each other in the back to offer Nick much help, or to mount a serious protest against Cypriani’s unorthodox hiring, until disaster strikes right under their noses.
No real detective work to speak of; like Dorothy, Nick finds in the end that the answer to all his problems was under his nose all along. But this trip to Oz is a joy throughout, thanks mostly to heroes with brains, heart, and nerve to spare.