Mystery writer # 11 : Amanda Cross
Title: In the last analysis
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1964
Type of mystery: murder, whodunnit
Type of investigator: amateurs
Setting & time: New York, 1960’s
Some themes: Psychoanalysis, murder, literature, university life
New York literature Professor Kate Fansler is shocked when a former student of hers is murdered on the couch of the psychoanalyst Kate recommended to her. What’s worse, the psychoanalyst, an old friend of Kate’s, is the police’s favourite suspect. Not trusting in the intelligence and experience of the police, Kate begins an investigation of her own, assisted by her nephew-in-law to-be who does the sleuthing, and a friend who is an assistant district attorney and has access to inside information about the investigation. Kate herself mostly does the thinking and the mental arithmetic involved in putting together the clues and finding a likely suspect and motive. This she does and arrives at a theory. Unfortunately she is, at first, unable to prove it, as the evidence is all circumstantial, but her ADA friend helps her to get hold of the one available piece of evidence the police need to turn their attentions to the real killer.
Amanda Cross (pseudonym), in real life a professor of literature herself, has been described as a literary feminist mystery writer, but I didn’t find much feminism in this book. Maybe it surfaces later in the series. Literature I did find, quotations in fact, and an accurate description of academic life, academic thinking processes and academic arrogance. Having experienced all these things as a student, it was interesting to see it from the point of view of a teacher.
As to characterisation, Kate is not a likeable character. She is arrogant, automatically assumes the police don’t know how to do their job, and barely hesitates to use her ADA friend to get access to classified information. She puts together her splendidly unlikely murder theory from some very tenuous threads that require a rather large jump to reach the conclusion.
The storytelling is ok, up until the point where Kate’s ADA friend breaks the law to get her the evidence she needs to prove the theory. In real life this would have meant that the evidence was inadmissible in court, but of course it doesn’t matter to the story, as she was simply trying to prove her friend didn’t commit the murder. Whether the killer gets away with it because of the lawless way in which the evidence was obtained is beside the point.
Cross’ books came highly recommended to me, but I must say this one is a disappointment. I plan to do a bit of research and try to find her most highly regarded mystery, to see if she deserved the praise.
Rating: A lusterless, undistinguished mystery. 2+ stars.