Thursday, July 24, 2008

Friday’s Forgotten Books: A Trap for Fools

I'm in the process of polishing up my latest story and so my wife has kindly agreed to sub for me today on FFB.

A Trap for Fools by Amanda Cross

It’s actually been a number of years since I read A Trap for Fools. My grandmother, who is every bit the feminist and political activist, not to mention mystery enthusiast, tossed it in my lap and said, “You might like this.” As usual, she was right.

The story follows Kate Fansler, a professor of literature and amateur sleuth. With a lawsuit looming over the university after the peculiar death of an unpopular colleague, the administration looks to Kate to investigate. She soon begins to feel she’s been set up to fail, but she remains persistent in putting the pieces together, even if it means naming someone she cares about as a murderer.

Trap (1989) is the ninth out of fourteen Fansler mysteries written by Carolyn Gold Heilbrun. The Fansler character shares a lot in common with her creator, both being professors of literature and feminists. When the first Fansler novel, In the Last Analysis, was published in 1964, Heilbrun did not want to risk her untenured position at Columbia University, so she chose the pen name Amanda Cross. Heilbrun confirmed her identity only after she received tenure, the first woman in Columbia’s English Department to do so.

Despite critical acclaim and several awards, Heilbrun was only moderately successful. Some critics rebuff the Fansler series for spending too much time painting a cynical portrait of rivalry and sexism in academia at the expense of the plot. However, most of her books were well received by readers.

Sadly, Heilbrun committed suicide in 2003. According to her son, she was not ill, but felt that her life had been completed. In her final note, she wrote: "The journey is over. Love to all." In a 1997 book, The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, she refers to taking her own life.

Maybe it’s because I read this when I was young and easily impressed or it’s my own affinity for the academic life that gave this novel much of its appeal, but from what I remember, it was an entertaining whodunit. If I ever get my belongings out of storage (long story), I plan to give this book another read. -- Denise M.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved Amanda Cross. But I believe her colleagues at Columbia disparaged her work.


That's an interesting post - I'll have to check this out.