Thirteen members of a Sarah Lawrence writing workshop directed by Bukiet (Undertown, 2013, etc.) team up for this serial whodunit, with predictably episodic results.
Much as President Mara Yaftali and corporate donor Eva Louisa Valdez might prefer to sweep it under the rug, there’s no denying that professor Eric Davenport, chair of the math department at Underhill College, has been poisoned in his office. Grace Montoya, the student (and lover) who found his body, withdraws from campus life, emerging only long enough to seduce her adoring roommate, Imogen, before she dies by violence herself. The sibling rivalry between Michael O’Conlan, the neighborhood teen to whom Davenport had been giving chess lessons, and his identical twin, Simon, intensifies. Kate Steelford’s late-night post-mortem exam of Davenport’s stomach contents discloses a gigantic praying mantis and several eggs the size of jelly beans. There’s no momentum, no sustained investigation, no characters worthy of the name since few of the contributors are interested in following up any of the clues, or even any of the developments, laid down by their predecessors; it’s not until Chapter 23 that Detective Harsley, of the Hurst Green Police, realizes “he hadn’t spoken to Davenport’s goddamn wife.” If the continuity is weak, however, several individual episodes—Harsley’s modishly bitter reflections on his own ex-wife, a disastrous debut for a campus tour guide, a series of academic explanations of the crime that obscure a lot more than they explain—are likely to provoke guffaws, or at least smirks.
Precious little post-postmodernism, or even pre-post-postmodernism, is on display; Naked Came the Outraged Feminist would have been a more accurate title. But here’s proof that a bunch of college students can handle the round-robin format about as well as their professional models.