The Parisian police tell Jack Davis that his old friend Professor Ted Porter was accidentally electrocuted by a miswired laptop computer. But Jack, summoned to Ted’s side by a frantic telegram, knows that Ted hated computers and would never have used one; and Jack’s legal secretary and sometime lover Grace Wu, when he ships the offending machine back home to her, discovers that it’s been deliberately booby-trapped. So it looks like Ted was murdered, and it looks like Jack is the only person in France who has any interest in tracking down his killer—unless you count the mysterious Danielle Dupin, the entrancing research assistant to whom Ted had dedicated his latest book, the subversive and revelatory study Rousseau’s Ghost. As Jack makes his way to Oxford, where he and Ted had been Rhodes Scholars together, and then back to an increasingly dangerous Paris, it becomes clear from Ted’s work on Rousseau’s lost magnum opus Institutions politiques that author Ball (Political Science/Arizona State) is aiming for a slimmed-down American Name of the Rose—and equally clear that his first novel, which swings from improbable melodrama to heartfelt swipes at deconstructionism and etymological disquisitions on the virtue proper to dogs, owes a lot more to the canons of the academic mystery than to Umberto Eco. Ball’s greatest success in bringing Rousseau and his work to life, making it a lot easier to generate the interest in Rousseau readers will need to get immersed in the half-hearted mystery.