Honest Doubt (Kate Fansler Novels)

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9780345440112: Honest Doubt (Kate Fansler Novels)

Amanda Cross, the internationally acknowledged master of the literary crime novel, introduces fans to a new heroine:  Estelle "Woody" Woodhaven.  Woody, a private investigator hired to find the perpetrator of a bizarre murder in academe, naturally enlists the help of that indefatigable amateur sleuth, Kate Fansler.

Woody is a fat P.I.--she always beats the client to the punch with that revelation.  She's also very competent.  But her newest case has left her feeling a bit out of her element.  

Professor Charles Haycock, an expert on Victorian literature, is dead from a hearty dose of his own heart medication, slipped into his drink during a party at his home.  The mystery is not why Haycock was murdered--very few could stomach the woman-hating, power-hungry prof--but who did the deed.  As Woody proceeds, she finds herself engulfed in a quagmire of infighting and deceit, literary allusions and overinflated egos.  And it's time to call in the reinforcements.

Enter Kate Fansler, professor and crimesolver extraordinaire.  Together, Woody and Kate start to pull at the loose ends of the very tangled Clifton College English Department.  Woody's list of suspects is longer than the freshman survey reading list:  Antonia Lansbury, the lone tenured woman on the staff--and thereby the target of Haycock's venomous, misogynistic ire; Professor David Longworth, weary of Haycock's controlling ways and now first in line for Department Chair; Rick Fowler, a professor forced out of Clifton because of his liberal views and out-and-proud principles; and Haycock's wife, who was about to file for divorce when her husband gasped his last breath.

As Kate and Woody defuse the host of literary landmines set out for them, Woody suspects they're only scratching the surface of a very large and sinister plot.  And it will take both women's expertise and cunning to solve the murder of a man no one was sorry to see go. . . .

Elegant, literate, and darkly humorous, this is one of Amanda Cross's best puzzlers in years--without an Honest Doubt.

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Review:

Amanda Cross (nom de plume of Columbia University professor Carolyn Heilbrun) and her elegant academic detective, Kate Fansler, have long been considered the doyennes of the literary mystery. Murder, blackmail, and theft are the unsavory but intriguing cornerstones of their ivory towers, and Cross ruthlessly exposes the vagaries of university life, with its (admittedly stereotyped) pretentious professors and impenetrable literary tomes. But with a dozen Fansler mysteries under her belt, Cross is introducing a new force to the groves of academe. "Woody" Woodhaven is a former New York defense attorney who's decided she prefers the private investigator's life, with its independence and authority (and, as she readily admits, she's got a lot of weight to throw around).

Clifton College has hired Woody to find out who has "rushed Charles Haycock into shuffling off his mortal coil." A conceited old bigot whose love of Tennyson was matched only by his hatred of women, Professor Haycock took a sip of a cocktail that was equal parts retsina and digitalin. When the police receive a letter blaming one of Haycock's English department colleagues, the department decides to do its own sorting of skeletons and asks Woody to do a bit of surreptitious closet cleaning. Baffled by the abstruse jargon and petty territoriality of the suspects, Woody turns to Kate Fansler for help. Could Haycock's passion for Tennyson really have been a motive for murder? Are departmental politics just so much hot air and venom, or do they mask a killing agenda?

Woody is charming, funny, and sardonic, big and strong enough to carry the burden of a heavy plot. More is the pity, then, that Honest Doubt is a relative lightweight. Cross seems rather more interested in having Woody sing Kate's praises than in the niceties of motive and character construction. All due respect for the doughty Professor Fansler, but for a novel that makes so much of its heroine's ample girth, most readers will find themselves wishing for a bit more meat on the story's bones. --Kelly Flynn

From the Back Cover:

"ONE OF CROSS'S BEST BOOKS IN YEARS."
--The Providence Journal

"AS SHOCKING AS IT IS PLAUSIBLE."
--The Washington Post Book World

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