PhDeath: The Puzzler Murders

James P. Carse. Opus, $19.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-62316-066-1
Carse (The Religious Case Against Belief) makes his impressive fiction debut with a cerebral mystery that combines sophisticated puzzles (linguistic, mathematical, and literary) with a searing indictment of American education and business practices. The death of Oliver Ridley, the newly appointed dean of an unnamed university in upstate New York, is assumed to be a suicide until an emailed puzzle received by faculty and students is deciphered and ominously reads: “The first to go is the most recent of ten.” Jack Lister, the university’s president, appoints rhetorician Professor Carmody to head a commission to help the police identify the so-called Puzzler. A second puzzle arrives a month later. When solved, it reveals both the next victim and the victim’s ugly secret. Neither the police nor Carmody’s committee makes much progress unmasking the Puzzler. When the surprising killer is finally revealed, the choice of victims is fully explained and their sins detailed. Carse, an NYU emeritus professor, writes with wit and great insight into the workings of academe (“Like most academics, they were uncomfortable in the presence of real teachers”). (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/19/2016
Release date: 11/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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