Who murdered professor Eric Davenport? That’s the question Detective Harsley attempts to answer in this murder/mystery/satire on campus life by Melvin Jules Bukiet’s 13 Sarah Lawrence College writing workshop students.
Was it Davenport’s student and lover, Grace Montoya? Was it someone else in the faculty? The administration? His gorgeous wife and former student, Ophelia? And what is it with all the praying mantises?
The Columbo-esque figure of Harsley, gristled and smoking constantly, navigates the student cliques at Underhill College, its faculty and administration, and its outliers, like the obsessive-compulsive student, Ben, whose pet mantis may hold the key, and Davenport’s high-school chess protégé, Mike, who holds some of Davenport’s papers for safe-keeping. When Grace turns up dead, more questions arise. Was her jealous mantis-raising roommate Imogen the culprit? Or was it an accident?
Each student in Bukiet’s class contributed at least a chapter to the book as a whole, and the plot and tone are coherent throughout. Was the book written with a plot already mapped out, or did each student build off the previous chapters? This is also part of the mystery.
Whatever the case, it was a fun ride, learning about the students of Underhill College, such as black-clad gay artist, Clay, who discovers Grace’s body, as well as the left-wing feminists on the faculty and administration, Miriam Aarons, Eva Louisa Valdez, Mara Yaftali and Amanda Pike, who seem to have their own agenda for Underhill. Was Davenport killed over a disagreement between the arts and sciences? It’s a good question. Maybe just as pertinent as the division between feminists and misogynists in the two areas.
And what is with all the mantises? There’s a missing shipment of them that seems to have been overlooked. Are they hiding in the tunnels underneath the school that are being used for some kind of Gregorian musical thesis project? Can Harsley piece it all together before more people are murdered and the anemic endowment of Underhill withers away to nothing? You’ll have to read it to find out.