NOVEL: In the Last Analysis
AUTHOR: Amanda Cross
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1964
What’s particularly interesting about this mystery novel (the first in a series featuring English professor Kate Fansler) is the fact that it was written by an English professor at Columbia University, Carolyn Heilbrun.
Amanda Cross was Heilbrun’s pen name; she did not dare publish under her own name, fearing that such a move would prevent her from getting tenure. She did earn tenure (in 1967), becoming the first woman to do so in her department.
She taught for over three decades, published books and articles with a strong feminist slant, and spoke up about continued discrimination against women, while attempting to change academic culture for the better.
And she kept writing detective fiction starring her alter ego as an amateur sleuth.
As for the novel itself: the heroine is trying to exonerate a dear friend and former lover (a psychoanalyst) who has been accused of the murder of her former student, his former client, who has turned up dead on his couch.
What’s fascinating here is not so much the crime itself (as in so many other novels of this sort, the mystery involves a rather improbable and convoluted plot) than the snapshot in time of New York City in the early sixties.
Think Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Feminine Mystique, birth control pills, the beginning of the social and economic decay that is to come. Professor Fansler and most of the police investigators view each other with a class-based mutual mistrust and incomprehension. Everyone is drinking to excess and smoking continuously.
With no forensic science to rely upon, the investigation has to be rather more creative than what we are used to these days. Kate Fansler’s an impossible snob, but the literary banter is a treat, and I always appreciate a homage to Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy Night, and a protagonist with a high-minded motive.
Some things have changed considerably–much of the Freudian analysis is horrifying to today’s reader. And some things don’t seem to change at all: professors complain about students, students complain about professors, and professors complain about administrators.
If you’re keen on a mystery novel with references to Picasso, Wallace Stevens, D.H. Lawrence, and T. S. Eliot, and the slightest hint of a romance with an intriguing Assistant District Attorney from Kate Fansler’s past, you may just want to give this one a try.
RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 Whistles
HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon
Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel. Laura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lead-In Image Courtesy of Pan Macmillan
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