Monday, September 26, 2011

OLD GOLD — Lev Raphael's Nick Hoffman, Academic, Not Elementary

Early works by some of our best, current crime writers have been out of print for years. But times are changing. Many of these highly praised novels are available again as e-books and or trade paperbacks. “Old Gold,” is a periodic blog feature that focuses on these reissued treasures. Here's Lev Raphael’s story in his own words.

The Edith Wharton Murders was my first “crossover” book. It was my first to be reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, with a rave. And in many bookstores, it got shelved in Mystery sections and Literature, sometimes side-by-side with books by Edith Wharton. All of that delighted me, since it featured a sleuth who loved two things: teaching and books.
I was freaked out to have a lifelong dream come true, and when the fax came from my agent the Monday before the review was going to run, I literally jumped up and down before calling friends. If there'd been a football field nearby, I would have been celebrating in the end zone. Then a doubt hit me: what if they changed their minds? Was that possible? My patient spouse assured me the Times did not retract reviews. Whew!

The novel's sleuth is an Edith Wharton scholar corralled into organizing a Wharton conference at his Midwestern University. His colleagues don't want the work or responsibility, and he doesn't have tenure, so the promise is that he'll get it if things go well. Of course they don't. As I heard at a mystery conference in Oxford from a sociologist: “Academics don’t have good means of crisis resolution.” The conference brings together two rival Wharton societies whose members loathe each other. Murder is the only possible result.

If you think academia is lightweight, you haven't experienced it. The academic world is piratical and dehumanizing. It has the vanity of professional sports; the hypocrisy of politics; the cruelty of big business; and the inhumanity of organized crime. All of that makes it a perfect setting for murder and satire.

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