By Marilyn Stasio
Oct. 5, 1997
New York Times Book Review
Is vulgar literary taste sufficient motive for murder? Actually, killing is too kind for the vindictive scholars in Lev Raphael's maliciously funny campus mystery THE EDITH WHARTON MURDERS (St. Martin's, $21.95), which makes clever use of a conference on Wharton (''a popular but bland and uncontentious woman writer'') to satirize the intellectual jealousies and political rivalries that poison the air in academic communities.
''These Wharton folks are just like gang-bangers, only they dress marginally better and they don't have drive-by shootings,'' according to Nick Hoffman, a Wharton bibliographer who has the unenviable job of moderating the hostilities at the State University of Michigan. After the initial skirmishes between opposing literary camps who invoke the battle spirit of Conan the Barbarian (''To crush your enemies, drive them before you, and hear the lamentations of their women''), the mayhem begins in earnest with the arrival of two celebrated and ardently loathed authors—one of whom winds up dead.
For an amateur, Nick does a credible job of sorting out the victim's mortal enemies while reserving his sympathy for those who merely despised the woman because her books had ''no real style, no sense of irony, no vision.'' And for ''an escaped academic,'' as the publisher describes him, Raphael has marvelous recall of the entertaining world he left behind.
© Lev Raphael.