by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
April 28, 2004
A TALE MURDER IN NASSAU HALL
SEATTLE, Wash. -- First, a declaration of interest. I am well acquainted with Ann Waldron, the author of this book, and it was in fact she who sent it to me - though without (as if this were a guarantee of my impartiality) an inscription.
Instead of an inscription there was a typed note: "I have a splint on my right hand so I can't sign even my name...but can hunt and peck a little."
Whether this was a ploy to identify herself even further with her heroine, McLeod Dulaney, the journalist who is teaching John McPhee's course in creative non-fiction, is unclear. McLeod gets pretty banged up in her efforts to locate the murderer (and rapist) of Melissa Faircloth, the President of Princeton.
For an ex-pat like me, the pleasures of the book are at least as much toponymic as anything else. I adore just the look of the words University Place and Boudinot Street and Micawber Books.
As for the words East Pyne Building, where my office was located just above that of McPhee, I can scarcely write them without a catch in my throat. That it has been renovated beyond my recognition is one part of my resolve never, never to return.
But I also admire the intrigue that Waldron is able to fashion as she moves believable characters in and out of these settings. She kept me up late wondering which of the deftly positioned clues and hints were to be taken seriously and which dismissed as red herrings.
I am always a tad anxious about reviewing a mystery. That the president's body was found, dead and desecrated, in a closet of her office is implicit in the title, of course.
But how to admire sufficiently the author's skillful, even expected, misleading of my suspicions is a thing I am fearful of doing without giving away the astonishing conclusion.
For more pages than I wish to admit, I was certain that the felon was a man who had ample opportunity, whom no one in his or her right mind would ever suspect, even though he was filled with resentment and emotional turmoil, and with whom (the clincher) McLeod herself was more than sweetly infatuated. In fact, she went to bed... . But no, here I draw the line. He had to have killed the president.
Then, with equal skill, Waldron manages to spread the suspicion around in the very best tradition of the whodunnit.
Finally, after a thrilling set of scenes straight out of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, we have the intense pleasure of realizing that the least likely of all the minor characters, whose guilt has gradually dawned upon us as the horrible foretaste of the death of our narrator grows stronger, is the actual baddie.
This is Ann Waldron's second mystery set in Princeton. "The Princeton Murders" was issued by the same publisher last year. "Divine characters," gushed the Romantic Times Bookclub. I also liked it in this space, but modesty forbids quoting Ink Soup in Ink Soup.
A delightful eccentricity of both books is the inclusion of recipes. Here I have a quibble: if the recipe for Ginger Chicken is that used at McLeod's intimate dinner with George, why does it serve six? Were there people there she doesn't mention?
("Death of a Princetion President," by Ann Waldron, is available at bookstores everywhere.)
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.