BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE: A Nick Hoffman Novel

Lev Raphael, Author . Walker $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8027-3365-8

In Raphael's disappointing fourth book featuring untenured professor and amateur detective Nick Hoffman, Juno Dromgoole, an English professor at the State University of Michigan, wants to find out who's been harassing her with anonymous phone calls urging her to "Get out!"—and to become chair (the "alpha bitch") of her department. So she turns to her colleague Nick for help. The Glock-owning Juno hardly seems to need Nick or anyone else; she's got more balls than 99% of her colleagues, whom she dismisses as "a bunch of whiners and weasels." This dysfunctional tribe of academics represents the possible suspects, and while several are clearly capable of a threatening phone call, none seems to have the guts or the motive for the (mildly) escalating violence. Raphael pads the story with other conflicts: Will Nick get tenure? Should he buy a gun of his own? Is he attracted to the Amazonian Juno? (Not a trivial question for a gay man in a committed relationship.) It would take a more resourceful, less ambivalent hero to rescue Juno—or this thinly plotted novel. Nick is almost as annoying as his petty, inarticulate colleagues. Their heated debates are more reminiscent of playground squabbles than intellectual disputes. Satirizing the academic world is one of the author's big themes, but it's a tired premise in this inexplicably titled book. Raphael doesn't generate enough narrative momentum or suspense to hold the reader's interest as the novel grinds to its abrupt, unsatisfying ending. (Oct. 10)

Reviewed on: 08/13/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
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