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Cold and Pure and Very Dead    by Joanne Dobson order for
Cold and Pure and Very Dead
by Joanne Dobson
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2001
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

This fourth mystery in the well-written (under-appreciated) series featuring English professor Karen Pelletier is, as always, a good read. Karen Pelletier is the 40-ish single mother of a college age daughter. Karen teaches 19th century American literature at the elite Enfield college in Massachusetts. She comes from a poor background and is a totally self-made woman. This makes her more down to earth than the usual stuffy professorial crowd and the perfect antidote to the pedantic Amanda Cross academic mysteries. Of course, along the way Karen throws in some of the academic jargon about deconstructing post-modernist theories etc., but usually in jest to deflate her more pompous colleagues.

In Cold and Pure and Very Dead, Karen is on sabbatical, which means fewer department politics and turf battles than in her previous books, though the Enfield English department still plays a strong role in the story. Karen is in hot water almost from the start when she gives an off-hand quote to an irritating New York Times reporter who asks her to name the 20th century's best novel. Annoyed at the question, she replies Oblivion Falls by Mildred Deakin. This 1950's book was a sensation at the time with its vivid sexuality and tearjerker ending. Topped by that, the author disappeared shortly afterward never to be heard from again.

Of course, this starts a rush on the forgotten novel and soon the intrepid reporter has discovered the missing author, now 70 and raising goats on an upstate New York farm. Then the reporter is found shot to death in the farm driveway and Deakin is charged with his murder. Karen, with time on her hands and a researcher's nosiness, decides to investigate. She discovers that Oblivion Falls appears to be almost a 'roman a clef' based on the author's life. Looking further she finds a tangle of connections between people in the book and real life counterparts, including some with ties to Enfield.

Karen's 'wrong side of the tracks' background is a great help in the discovery process as is the assistance of state policeman Lieutenant Charlie Piotrowski. He has appeared in all the previous books and the growing attraction between Karen and Charlie has been obvious to readers if not to the characters themselves. They finally get their act together in this book and promise to be a memorable couple. Of course, Karen puts herself in jeopardy as she digs deeper but is able to save herself and guarantee us future enjoyable mysteries, the most recent being The Maltese Manuscript.

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