Sunday, November 14, 2021

68. Sweet Death, Kind Death by Amanda Cross

Another free shelf find that I had hoped would be an easy 80s mystery read.  It ended up being that, but the first few chapters were a real slog.  The mystery takes place in an academic world and the book was written by an academic for academic-types to read.  There are quotes at the beginning of every chapter and the language is relativel dense, with fairly high vocab for a book of this type.  It takes a while for the situation and plot to coalesce and while we are getting there, there is a lot of discussion about the role of middle-aged women in society that comes in the form of witty, erudite banter between the characters.  I had a hard time getting through this first part.

The protagonist is a New York professor who I guess has a knack for also solving mysteries.  In this case, she is contacted by two men who are writing a biography of a feminist author and professor who killed herself at the lake of the private liberal arts college where she taught.  There was some suspicion that she was murdered, because though she had written and talked of death (including her own), none of her close friends felt it made any sense that she would have done it then.  So the detective/professor goes to Clare College (some conservative amalgam of Bard and one of the other new england women's colleges), ostensibly to head up a task force on whether or not they should have a gender studies program, but really to investigate.

The college set up is really fun.  Though a woman's college, the school is deeply conservative and pretty damned sexist.  Most of the other professors hated the victim because of her independence from the constraints of traditional roles for women.  This book was written in 1984.  I went to a liberal arts college a few years after that which was the peak of the wave of feminism that was the really suppressive anti-sex one.  I was generally supportive of that movement and understood broadly the reasons for its expression.  Reading this book, it really exposed how fucking awful even that late in the game, the patriarchal power structure was.  The arguments against the gender studies program sound so similar to the same bullshit we hear being trotted out in response to the Black Lives Matter movement or climate change.  People in unequal power making any convoluted argument no matter how illogical as long as they can find justification so they get to stay in unequal power.  

Ultimately, the mystery part got all a bit crammed up at the end.  It was kind of fun but we never really got to see the culprit enough to really hate them and thus didn't get much satisfaction at their comeuppance.  This milieu is not really my jam, so I probably won't read any more, but if this one is any indication, it is a well-written and enjoyable series for people who appreciate American academic cozies.

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