St. Martin's, 2001
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Reviewed by G. Hall
rene Allen has written several appealing mysteries about Elizabeth Elliot, a 60-ish Quaker resident of modern day Cambridge, Massachusetts. These thoughtful novels are both good mysteries and also an introduction to the Quaker lifestyle which I found very interesting. Using side storylines, Allen shows how Elliot conducts her life as Clerk of the Cambridge Quaker meeting and illustrates the Quaker philosophy of bearing witness and helping those less fortunate. This is not preachy in any way, and is fully integrated with the many story.
focusses on young Janet Stevens, a promising graduate student in Harvard's paleontology department who becomes the target of sexual harassment by her very prominent middle-aged graduate advisor, Paul Chadwick. This book was written in 1993, a few years after the infamous Clarence Thomas - Anita Hill Supreme Court confirmation hearings when sexual harassment finally received long over-due recognition as a serious problem. Allen has nicely incorporated this in her storyline. Although women have made much progress in the physical sciences in the last several decades, most fields are still dominated by men and the powerlessness and vulnerability of young women is well-depicted.
n addition, as a real life geologist, Allen credibly describes work in paleontology and the tensions and competitiveness of any scientific lab, especially in a prestigious research group in a hot field such as this. When Dr. Chadwick is found murdered in the lab, the victim of a poison gas used as a reagent in their experiements, Janet is a suspect since she has filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. Raised as a Quaker she turns to Elliot, initially for comfort and then for help clearing her name.
lliot uses her Quaker network to obtain help for Janet. She then ventures into the lab to get more information about the crime. The author uses Elliot's position as an outsider to provide a good sense of the scientific world without over-burdening the reader with technical details. Allen also creates a variety of believable characters, not the
that are often depicted in fiction. The reader may quibble that the police are not drawn in as soon as they should be, and that the characters are a bit slow in suspecting criminal activities. However, that may just illustrate the naivet9 of young grad students or a middle-aged Quaker who too often believes the best in people. All in all, this is a satisfying mystery with an interesting view of both the Quaker and scientific worlds.
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