“Death of a Department Chair”–A “Shedunit”


Miller, Lynn C., “Death of a Department Chair”.  Terrace Books, 2006

“A Shedunit”

Amos Lassen

Lynn Miller is a mystery writer who has done a bang up job with “Death of a Department Chair”. This is one of the fastest moving murder mysteries I have ever read and boy did it pack a wallop. Academia is always fun to read about and throw in a gay theme, it is twice as fun. And then are twice as many villains here. Those of you who have been to college will feel right at home with this cozy book. It is witty and a real page turner.  It is not just a “whodunit” but a “who woulda done it if they coulda”.

Margaret Held, our heroine, tells the reader of the previous year when she was the chief suspect in the murder of her former lover and department chair, Isabel Vittorio. Vittorio was not all that clean herself; she had been involved in hanky panky regarding the hire of a new female professor who happened to be African American and was at odds with the majority of the faculty. Miriam, on the other hand, was forced into acting in the opposite direction and therefore had to defend both her reputation and her life. In her quest for the truth, Miriam gathers evidence that seems to incriminate all of her friends and colleagues. What develops is an atmosphere and mistrust and a new look at departments of literature that few of us have ever seen before.

Cleverly and wittedly, written there are enough twists and turns to made heads spin and what emerges is a clever satire of the academic world. Miller’s characters are so finely created that there were times that I felt that if I looked up from the pages of the book, I would find one of them sitting in the room with me. Combined that with clear and lucid prose, a wonderful story and outrageous goings on, you are set for a wonderful read.

Miler has written one other book, “The Fool’s Journey” which I can’t wait to read and co-edited “Voices Made Flesh: Performing Women’s Autobiography.” What she has done for me is create a fan that is anxious to explore her writing. I have never really liked what is referred to as “Lesbian Lit” but this book sure made me change my mind.

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