Professor Charles Haycock is dead from a hearty dose of his own heart medication. The mystery is not why Haycock was murdered—very few could stomach the woman-hating prof—but who did the deed.
Estelle "Woody" Woodhaven, a private investigator hired to find the killer, naturally enlists the help of that indefatigable amateur sleuth, Kate Fansler. Together, they start to pull at the loose ends of the very tangled Clifton College English Department. The list of suspects is longer than the freshman survey reading list. And as the women defuse the host of literary landmines set out for them, Woody suspects they're only scratching the surface of a very large and sinister plot. . . .
About the Author
Amanda Cross is the pseudonymous author of the bestselling Kate Fansler mysteries, of which Honest Doubt is the thirteenth. As Carolyn G. Heilbrun, she is the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities Emerita at Columbia University. She has served as president of the Modern Language Association as well as vice president of the Authors Guild. Dr. Heilbrun is also the author of Writing a Woman's Life, Hamlet's Mother and Other Women, The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem, and, most recently, the New York Times Notable Book The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty.
Read an Excerpt
"Some work of noble note, may yet be done."
When I had finished writing up my report, covering everything in the investigation as it then stood, I leaned back in my chair and gave myself up to facing facts. So far, so good, but only so far and no further. I
knew the moment had come to call upon Kate Fansler.
She had been recommended to me as the logical, perhaps the only person who could be of help at the current impasse. As a private investigator of some reputation and accomplishment, I never shy away from consulting anyone who can offer me a shove, however minimal, in the right direction, but Kate
Fansler gave me pause. She was a detective herself, if strictly amateur,
and a professor into the bargain. I don't mind asking experts for explanations in any abstruse fieldI'm ready to admit what's beyond my powersbut I couldn't help fearing that the air that lady breathed was a little too rarefied for my earthly self.
And then of course there was the fact that she was said to be slender. I,
being fat, dislike thin womenI'm more open-minded about menand in the end I admitted this to my client, the one who had suggested Fansler. I was guaranteed that though she was undoubtedly skinnythat term, being vaguely insulting, appeals to meFansler never worried about her weight or threatened to go on a diet.
If there is one thing more revolting than another, it is thin women complaining about their fat and screaming about their need to lose weight.
Not Fansler, I was assured. With her it's a matter of metabolismgenes,
really. She eats what she wants and hates health food and any form of low-fat diet, my client told me. Well, blessings are unevenly distributed in this world, though Hindus think we all earned our fate by our actions in a previous life. I probably was starving, skeletal, and yearning for food every minute of the day and night. Hence my current figure.
I'd gone to many doctors and diet specialists, all of whom tried to determine why I was fat, and how I might get thin. It was always assumed it was some problem with my psyche. One day I happened to meet up with a doctor who explained that there was such a thing as an inherited tendency to largeness. He held to this view even under my vigorous cross-examination. I began not only to accept the fact that I was fat,
that my father had weighed three hundred pounds and my mother not far behind, but that, furthermore, once people got used to the idea of my size it might not matter that much anymore. It was genes with me, same as with
But of course it still matters. I collect plump people who are accomplished as well as heavy. It helps to knit up my raveled self-esteem.
People seldom realize it, but fat is the only affliction that has never been protected by affirmative action, antibias laws, or any other category like sexual harassment, date rape, or domestic violence, though I seem to remember someone once wrote a book called Fat Is a Feminist Issue. The point is, it's okay to say and do anything to fat people short of murder,
and to refuse them a job because you think their failure to lose weight is a character and mental defect. They don't even call it heft-disadvantaged or weightily challenged.
There was Nero Wolfe. It's easier for men, of course, with this as with everything else. Dorothy Sayers was fat. When she lived in Witham, they used to say that her husband drank and she ate. When she wasn't translating Dante, that is. When she'd had enough of Peter Wimsey. I'm afraid I've gotten in the habit of mentioning my size to bring it out into the open when I meet someone so that we can go on to other things. I'd have to be careful not to overdo that with Kate Fansler.
Enough, I told myself firmly. Without thinking about it too much, I picked up the phone and called her, introducing myself as recommended to her by
Claire Wiseman, who used to teach at Clifton.
"Ah," Fansler said, "what Charles Dickens called a mutual friend." She made an appointment to see me at her home the next afternoon.
My name is Estelle Aiden Woodhaven, licensed as a private investigator;
everyone calls me Woody. Estelle was my grandmother's name; Aiden is what they would have named me if I'd been a boy, which they had rather hoped I
would be. It's easy to figure out what Woody is short for; I think it definitely sounds investigative, which Estelle certainly does not. One of the fancy academic types I've been dealing with said it sounded androgynous, so people wouldn't know I was a woman until they were face-to-face with me. Right, I thought; and they wouldn't know I was fat,
Of course, I didn't say all this to Kate Fansler when I met her the next afternoon; I just drew attention to my size, because I find it's necessary to assure clients and those I consult that I may be fat, but I can get around. In fact, I told her, I coach a college hockey teamfield hockey,
not ice; I'm also trained in self-defense. Also, I pointed out, there's an advantage in looking like a lazy linebacker if you're not really sluggish.
"Sorry to have put you through all that," I said to Kate Fansler. "I guess the thought of talking to you made me nervous."
Kate opened her mouth and closed it. She put on glasses to read the card I
had handed her, which she had been too polite to look at while I was talking. Now she gazed at me over her glasses, which gave her the look of a psychoanalyst I'd once gone to, another thin dame, who had knitted throughout our sessions when she wasn't peering at me over her spectacles. She hadn't helped me at all, and neither had any of the other shrinks I'd been advised to consult.
"I didn't know anyone played field hockey anymore," Kate said. "We used to play it in school; I was a wingmuch smacking of ankles with sticks."
"Not if it's played properly," I said with dignity.
"I shall come by one day and watch the team you coach," Kate said.
"Meanwhile . . ."
"What am I here for? My usual tasks involve divorce, theft, blackmail,
suspicions of commercial cheating. Now I've been hired for a job that's a bit beyond my scope; I was hoping to hire you as a consultant, a subcontractor, whatever. Is there a chance you might agree?"
"There's a chance I might listen. May I venture a guess that your case has to do with an academic or literary matter?"
"They said you were a good detective."
Kate smiled. "It hardly took detective powers to guess that. Tell me about it, and we'll see if I think I can help. Won't you sit down?" she said,
waving toward a chair. I had been standing while I made my speeches and handed her my card. Now I sat.
"Can't I get you a cold drink?" Kate said. It was late September but really hotIndian summer or something. Even though riding a motorbike is cooler than walking, you're still moving through the humidity and heat and likely to be sweating upon arrival. Not that a taxi would have been much better; they aren't really air-conditioned whatever they claim. The subway cars are cool enough, but the stations are Turkish baths.
"A glass of cold water would be welcome," I said. I seemed to take a lot of time deciding what to say to her. She left the room to fetch my drink,
and I took the opportunity to look around. I'm not much interested in furniture as a rule; I only notice it when it concerns some problem I'm trying to figure out. I'm good at noticing; any half-decent detective has to be good at noticing, but I don't sit around describing everything to myself the way they seem to do in books. This room was appealing,
however, cool of coursethere was an air conditioner
but also comfortable, as though they'd bought some pretty good furniture a while back and just let it grow old along with them.
A bit shabby, I guess it was, but you didn't get the feeling they were trying to impress anyone with their good taste.
This was just a room to sit in.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
But a good readable mystery without the grafic violence and sex other writers have had to introduce in their series to keep interest. As a person she does not get more loveable with age but surprise the authors non fiction is the same she comes across the same distant and not someone you d be a friend to or expect her to be. But do we have to like the detective? movie who else but the late katherine hepburn. Mom
I love reading the stories that 'Amanda Cross' writes. They are literate and easy to read. Woody is an interesting private eye and I hope she meets Don again. This story had a few too many characters and that made it hard to really think that one of them was the murderer. I liked the literary allusions and solutions. One quotation surprised me. I thought that Thoreau wrote the one about enterprises that require new clothes, not that TS Eliot used it in a play. Maybe I'm wrong. The Tennyson poetry was well chosen and I do like quotations at the beginning of each chapter. I hope we'll read more about Woody but also Kate. Readers who have only read the mysteries should try Heilbrun's non-fiction. It's excellent.
Professor Charles Haycock, the Chair of New Jersey¿s Clifton College English Department keels over and dies at a party he is hosting at his home for faculty members. Most folks felt Charles¿ death was related to his heart condition, but his son suspects foul play, leaning towards his stepmother. The autopsy shows that Charles died from an overdose of digitalis. His son hires private detective Woody Woodhaven to find out who murdered Charles. Woody starts by concentrating on family members, but soon receives an anonymous letter claiming an employee killed the professor. Since Woody knows nothing about academia politics, jealousies, and bickering, she consults with Professor Kate Fansler, an amateur sleuth noted for solving university homicides. Woody learns that everyone detested the victim, but no one had a strong enough motive to kill him. Ready to give up, she tries one last Hail Mary pass to see what develops. After reading HONEST DOUBT, fans will not need the services of a soothsayer or futurologist to conclude that Amanda Cross is setting up a new series. The main protagonist in this ¿Kate Fansler¿ tale is Woody, who looks ready to star in her own series. Readers will like Woody, who is comfortable with knowing she is a full sized woman. The large cast of secondary characters, especially the faculty, rings genuine including several unlikable professors. There are so many suspects, there is no doubt the audience will finish this book in one sitting to find out who did the crime. Harriet Klausner
I used to defend Amanda Cross from those who thought her work pretentious and full of self referential academic puns. One friend said that in her books a change of tense amounts to a punch line, and now with this latest addition, I have to admit I am prepared to give up on Ms. Cross. The book is a series of interviews between Woody, the detective on the scene, and the professors of an English Dept at a college and there is nothing distinguishing about the personalities, nothing even remotely likable about any of them and consequently, one just reads it to get to the end. And then when the end comes, you discover the mystery is solved thanks to the plot machinations of another book, a classic by Agatha Christie. This book was in a word: tedious. Give me PD James and Philip Margolin (please read him if you haven't already done so. You OWE it to yourself).