MURDER AT MONTICELLO by Jane Langton
A HOMER KELLY MYSTERY
Fern Fisher has won a grant to work in Monticello and write a book on Thomas Jefferson. Initially, she draws inspiration from a tall red-haired figure that she takes to be her imaginationís representation of the late president. Soon she realizes that this figure is a very alive male, Tom Dean. Tom is fixated with the Lewis and Clark expedition, but has little use for slave-owner Jefferson. He and Fern clash, then begin to work together.
This is not a good time in Charlottesville, Virginia. A serial killer has been at work killing women and leaving cryptic notes on their bodies. Notes that come directly from one of the Lewis and Clark expedition diaries. One witness reported that the killer had red hair. Could Tom be the killer? He becomes a suspect and it is up to Homer Kelly, Harvard professor now visiting the Monticello area, to prove him innocent.
Author Jane Langton does a fine job developing a rich set of characters. The killer is suitably chilling; Tom and Fern are convincingly young, bumbling, and sexually bothered; Homer is professorial, with his lack of any navigational ability, abrupt fascination with various obscure topics, and confidence that he can be of assistance to the highly trained Charlottesville police force. Langtonís device of interleaving quotations from the journal of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and other members of the expedition works, and Langton is able to achieve a parallelism between the two-hundred year old expedition and Tom and Fernís trials.
Although MURDER AT MONTICELLO is billed as a mystery, neither Fern, nor Tom, nor Homer actually do much detecting. Homer does go through some of the motions, questioning the clues that point in Tomís direction. I would have liked to see someone other than the killer developing plans, carrying them out, and evaluating the results. Instead, Homer cutely bumbled about.
Read and enjoy MURDER AT MONTICELLO for what it is. Langton does a fine job developing characters, describing Monticello as it is today, and interleaving history with modern life. Witty dialogue and description, with some carefully drawn insights into society and young love make the novel a pleasant diversion.
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