A college professor dead under mysterious circumstances. A secretary who hates the victim with lethal ferocity. A vengeful former student. To university archivist and former intelligence agent Ben Reese, the sudden death of his old friend and colleague Richard West, Chair of the English Department, looks like murder, but in a small buttoned-down private college, can it ever be proved? Not until an attack on his own life tells Ben all he needs--and fears--to know about a brilliant, sociopathic killer. . . .
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Tuesday, November 22
"Did you see him the day he died?"
"Briefly. On his way out the door." Nancy Shaffer pushed her black leather headband farther back on her head and squinted across the English department office toward the watercooler. "He had two classes that morning, and his Blake tutorial."
"Do you remember the name of the graduate student?"
"Did they meet in Richard's office?"
"Not Friday. They went to Dr. West's house. He'd made doughnuts, or coffee cake or something. You know how he liked to bake."
"So you didn't actually talk to Dr. West?"
"I just said hello to him a few minutes before eight. He had that lunch meeting later, and then he was driving to Columbus."
"I know he was planning to visit the University Museum. Maybe it's the Anthropology Museum. The one where they have the Mound Builder displays? One of the anthropology professors is a friend of his."
"Ah. Waldo Hubbard."
"That sounds right."
Ben had only met him once, but he was an old friend of Richard's, and he was struggling through the last stages of Parkinson's disease. "Was Richard planning to go anywhere else?"
"He didn't mention anything. I know he often went to the zoo. Of course I don't know if he meant it, you know how he joked with a straight face, but I remember one time he said he was teaching a parrot to say Ludwig van Beethoven."
"Yeah, he probably was."
"Friday he just said he wouldn't be back in the office before I left for the day, so he'd leave me a note for Monday, if there was anything special he wanted done first thing."
"Didn't he have office hours on Monday?"
"Ten to twelve. But I get in at eight, while he's teaching, and if he leaves me a note, I can get started."
"You do all the department work?"
"He was planning to hire someone part-time. Now that I've moved into Sarie's job."
"I was surprised to hear she'd left."
"It was a surprise to everybody." Nancy dropped a pen in her center drawer with a carefully neutral expression.
And yet it looked to Ben like she was trying not to say something more. "So why do you think she quit?"
"You want my honest opinion? Or you want me to be discreet?"
"I'd like to hear what you really think."
"I think she was too wishy-washy to work for Dr. West." Nancy's broad hands had gripped the edge of her desk, and she was watching her thumbs slide back and forth. "You know what he was like, he'd toss instructions at you over his shoulder as he ran out the door. Sarie couldn't take it in that fast. My father was a lot like Dr. West, so it didn't bother me that much. I'd holler at him and drag him back if I didn't understand what he meant, and then he'd apologize for not explaining. There's nobody in the department who can replace him. And I hope they don't make a big mistake."
"But Sarie never talked to you about it?"
"Not directly." Nancy bent her large, gray-haired head and began lining up the edges of the papers on her desk, making neat symmetrical piles with equal distances between them. "To tell you the truth, I think they drove each other crazy. She was slow and disorganized, and that was frustrating for him because he did everything so fast." Nancy smiled and shook her head and her face lost the tight, set lines. "He'd say things like, 'Get me that guy Smith on the phone!' And I'd say, 'Wait a minute, which Smith?' I thought it was kind of funny, myself, but Sarie would just sit there and stare at her hands."
"Does she still take care of her father?"
"I think it's her uncle. He's an invalid, but I don't know what's wrong with him."
"It's good of her, to do that." Ben picked a piece of lint off his corduroy pants and laid his right ankle on his left thigh, before looking to see how Nancy reacted.
"Oh, I know, she's a nice person. But there was a definite personality clash."
"Did Richard pick up his mail Friday?"
"He must have. There were several things in his mailbox, and they were gone Saturday morning."
"You remember anything in particular?"
"Nothing special. One or two political letters. He was always writing senators and congressmen and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee."
"And wondering why nobody else did. Did he type his personal correspondence?"
"He was very particular about that. I did everything that was related to the university, but he used the typewriter he bought for his personal correspondence, as well as the early drafts of his literary articles and political essays."
"Did he keep copies of his own letters?"
"He was careless about that, in my opinion. He made carbons of his political letters, and his financial correspondence, but other than that, he never bothered."
"What time is the mail delivered?"
"Early afternoon. I get it in the boxes by two usually."
"It was still in his pigeonhole when you went home at four?"
"I think so." Nancy adjusted the cuffs of her suit coat, while gazing at a cactus on a filing cabinet as though she were trying to visualize Richard's mailbox. "I mean, I didn't notice, especially. But he hadn't come in."
Ben had already gotten up and walked to the window, where he picked up the cord to the old venetian blinds and gazed across campus toward The Coffee Cup. "Do you remember if he'd gotten a package?"
"Seems like he did. I do everybody's mail at once and I can't say I recall for sure, but someone got a package, something I had to work to fit in the box."
"Do you usually come in on Saturday?"
"If there's anything pressing. My husband went hunting, and I just thought I'd come in and clean up a few odds and ends. I'm glad I did. I wouldn't like to think of Dr. West lying there all weekend."
"But finding him must have been a shock. You have a key to his office?"
"I gave it to the police. The door was unlocked, though. And now that I think about it, the janitor would've found him when he came in to clean. I nursed during the war, so that stood me in good stead. You know what I mean. When I opened the door."
"Ben! Ben, over here! Sorry I didn't get to talk to you after the funeral, but I had an alumni meeting." President James Cook smoothed his tie with a practiced hand and the gold ring on his little finger flashed for a second in the sun. "I saw the long arm of the law walking your way, and I couldn't wait."
"How are you, Jim? How's Mary Ann?"
"She's fine. She's taken the children to Florida to visit her family for ten days, but she'll be back Sunday. Her father's not very well, and she felt she ought to go. You haven't seen the kids in a while, have you? We just got their school pictures back this week." Jim pulled his wallet out of the breast pocket of his suit coat and handed Ben two small color prints.
"Boy, they're growing up. How old are they now?"
"James is nine, and Sarah's seven."
"They're both very good-looking."
"They are, aren't they? They must have inherited it from their mother." Jim looked at the snapshots for a second himself, and then put them back in his wallet. "I feel terrible about Richard."
"I know. I do too."
"It's such a shame, Ben. Why did he have to be his own worst enemy? I remember when he was as skinny as a rail. Remember, back in Bloomington? He looked like a starving Swedish farmer, instead of a doctor's son from the best side of Chicago."
"I suppose it would've helped if he'd lost thirty pounds, but he inherited the heart condition. His father was thin, and he died when he was forty-five."
"Did he? I guess I'd forgotten that. Of course, Richard didn't talk to me about personal matters the way he did you. I don't think he ever felt the same about me after he got back from the war." Jim moved his smooth, narrow briefcase from one hand to the other, and looked past Ben toward the grove of trees outside the administration offices. "To tell you the truth, I don't think he ever forgave me for being 4F."
"He never felt that way!"
"Absolutely. Richard didn't blame you for what you couldn't help. We were all just different after the war. We enlisted as kids and we came back old men. Of course I was much younger than the two of you!"
"Don't rub it in! By what, five or six years maybe?"
"Yeah. But seriously, he never held it against you."
"I do think there was a feeling of strain between us. Not always. But sometimes."
"You disagreed on several fundamental principles of education. Tenure. Budget priorities. Graduate tutorials. With you being president and him the head of the English department, how could there not be conflict?"
"Perhaps. I hadn't thought of it in quite those terms. But what a great character he was! There'll never be another like Richard West. He really had a remarkable mind, Ben. Even if I did take exception to his opinions from time to time. And as I'm sure you know, his passing is a real blow for the English department, and it'll take a while to repair the damage. So when are you leaving for England?"
"I don't know. I'll postpone it until after the first of the year anyway. I accomplished quite a bit while I was there, and several things have come up here I ought to take care of. Listen, I hate to rush, but I'm on my way to see Chester."
"Why? I can't imagine that you find him stimulating."
"I like Chester. And he's letting me go over his paperwork."
"I apologize, Ben. I didn't mean that to sound so condescending. But why would you want to? You don't think Richard's death was suspicious, do you?"
"No. Although there are 'one or two rather suggestive points.'"
"Quoting Conan Doyle are we? Holmes would've been utterly bored by this death! Richard had a heart condition. It could've happened any time."
"That's true. But I have to stay here anyway, I'm the executor of his will. And I suppose it makes me feel better, following his footsteps those last few days."
"There's no doubt that he died of a heart attack?"
"No, none at all."
"That's what everyone assumed, but the obituary was kind of vague. You know how they are."
"I miss him, Jim. I haven't had a hot discussion since he drove me to the airport."
"Then drop over sometime! I mean it. Let's have a drink together, or go out to eat. Of course, we'll have to plan ahead. You can imagine what my schedule's like."
"That's why they pay presidents more than archivists. I'll see you later, Jim. Give my regards to Mary Ann."
They both smiled at each other, then turned away. James Cook walked toward the president's office, swinging his Italian briefcase and tucking his paisley scarf inside the neck of his cashmere overcoat. Ben trotted across campus, shuffling through the leaves in his desert boots, wondering when Richard's office was last cleaned.
Ellen Winter opened the door of the small conference room where she worked and stepped into Ben Reese's office without looking up from her journal. She was on her way to the drinking fountain, and she jumped before she could stop herself, when she realized there was a man she'd never seen before sitting in Dr. Reese's chair.
He seemed to be staring at the center drawer, but then his head snapped up and it looked as though he'd started to leap up but changed his mind.
"Hey, lady! You took my breath away!"
"I'm sorry. I didn't see you either."
A small piece of tobacco was stuck at one corner of his mouth, and he picked it off while he recovered himself, and then smiled at Ellen. "Yeah, well, I just stopped in to talk to Dr. Reese. I made a phone call too I should've made yesterday, while I was waiting for him to get back. So who are you?"
"Ellen Winter." He looked about thirty, and he had dark eyes and a strong jaw, and Ellen thought he was very good-looking when he smiled. The hardness disappeared, and his eyes seemed more straightforward. "Do you know Janie, his secretary? She can probably tell you when he'll be in."
"I tried. She's out to lunch. But it's no big deal, I'll catch him later. Can I drop you somewhere?"
He'd already stood up, and although he wasn't very large or very powerful-looking, there was something about him that forced Ellen to notice him physically. She found herself measuring his shoulders and the shape of his thighs. And she didn't like the fact that he could make her do that. "I don't think so. But thank you anyway. I've got work to do here."
Neither Frank Marquez (the graduate student Richard had met with before he drove to Columbus), nor Waldo Hubbard at Ohio State had much to add when Ben phoned. Their conversations with Richard on the day he died had been just what they always were. He hadn't seemed preoccupied or upset. He hadn't told them what his plans were for the rest of the day. And both of them said they missed arguing with him already.
Ben had hung up the phone and was looking out the window of his small, businesslike office, thinking how much worse Waldo sounded.
I probably ought to go visit him, now that Richard's gone. They don't have kids and his wife doesn't drive--
"Dr. Reese? Am I interrupting?"
"Ellen! No, come on in. How are you?"
"Fine. I'm sorry about Dr. West."
"Thank you for sending the telegram."
"Oh, you're welcome. I called Maggie, but she wasn't home. I wish there was something more I could've done."
Ben looked at her and wondered whether that reply was a matter of convention or actual conviction, and then decided to change the subject. Ellen seemed older than most of his students, and that sometimes made it difficult to know where to draw the lines. "You sent the Aubusson wall hanging?"
"To the Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts, insured for fifteen hundred dollars."
"And what about the journals?"
"I've been working through Classical Studies, and Art Bulletin, but I haven't touched Coin World."
"That's okay. You've made a good start. And now I think it's time you got your hands dirty."
"What does that mean?"
"We will begin with the field of numismatics."
"About which I know nothing!"
"That doesn't matter. I have a little surprise for you in the catacombs." He smiled and stood up, and then checked his coat pockets to make sure he had his keys.
They talked about films down three flights of stairs into the basement of the library, which did give the impression of being a labyrinthine crypt. Cool, dark, silent except for the hum of the furnaces and the air blowers. There were no marble floors and carved arches like there were on the upper floors, and no painted marbleized friezes--just concrete blocks and wire partitions with locked gates protecting aisle after aisle of shelves and drawers.
"What did he look like?"
"I think I put them in here." Ben opened a wooden drawer in the middle of an aisle, and began sorting through small glass-topped boxes and leather bags. "I found them last summer in a drawer of butterflies in the old science museum. Go ahead and look around. It's interesting, isn't it? I'm still amazed by what turns up."
"Are these things valuable?" Ellen's eyes swept the rows of busts and statuary and then turned toward the shelves of oversized fossils.
"Not those particularly, but there're a lot of things here that are. The alumni have donated whole collections of coins and paintings and rare books. Usually because they remember what it was like for them, and they want students here, kids from small podunk midwestern towns like they were, to be able to appreciate them too."
"That's a nice thing to do. When they could've sold them, or let their families have them."
"Of course, you have to remember that all artifacts are pieces of history even if they aren't valuable. What we tend to think of as 'History,' is basically the subjective interpretation of public acts, usually written from a considerable distance. Created objects are bits of real people's lives, and the day-to-day culture in which they lived. And I like that, for some reason. Ah, here they are. Finally. I was beginning to think they'd disappeared." Ben handed her a small, stained cardboard box.
Ellen took the lid off and carefully removed a layer of cotton, uncovering four crude, half-spherical copper coins which managed to give the impression of great age.
"They still have to be identified and dated, and I thought it would be an interesting project. Now what's the first thing you'd do?"
"Look through the reference books?"
"Right. But what if you don't find them there?"
"Photograph them, I guess, and send the slides to whatever museums specialize in ancient coins."
"Good. I'd try the British National Museum, or the Berlin Museum maybe, or even the Vienna Numismatics Museum. And since you'll be working in the conference room, I'll keep them upstairs, in the safe in my office. I'll be around a few more weeks, so if you run into a snag, I can give you names of people who might be able to save you time."
"You aren't going back to England right away?"
"I have to settle Dr. West's affairs first." Ben followed her through the narrow hall and watched her bent head as she rubbed the coins between her fingers as though the feel of them was good against her skin. "So what made you want to become an apprentice?"
"Well, I'm a humanities major, but I want to be a writer. And I'm trying to learn all kinds of other things so I have something to talk about when the time comes."
"Good. That's what I would've done."
"And when I met you, when I was doing that paper on Branwell Brontë? It seemed to me that what you do must be great experience for a writer. Of course, my mother got me interested in historical things before that. She has an antique business that deals in small English pieces.
"I used to watch her with her barometers, and her pen and ink stands, and it was almost like they'd had lives of their own, and she could tell stories about them. That's what I did as a little kid. I'd go to the shop with her, and put paper in her typewriter, and use candlesticks and hourglasses as ideas for stories, the way someone else might use a murder weapon."
"I was raised in northern Michigan, and I called the hunting dogs when I was a kid and went to the woods." Ben grabbed a handful of cashews from the jar on Janie's desk and opened his door for Ellen. "So what's your father do? I'm sorry, that's none of my business."
"I don't mind. He's a judge."
"Ah. My dad's a tool-and-die maker. He's an inventor really, in his own way. Let me get those in the safe." Ben turned to the cabinet on the left of his desk and went through the combination, swinging the heavy metal door open on creaking hinges.
"So how was it that you and Dr. West and President Cook all ended up at a private university like Alderton?"
"My wife and I were teaching here, and Dr. West came to visit. He was working at the University of Michigan, and he liked the smallness of Alderton, the way you can really get to know your students and work with them individually. And then three years ago, when President Morrison retired, Dr. Cook applied for the position."
"So does that make you feel closer to President Cook than you would otherwise, having known him a long time?"
"Sure. I think so. We don't see each other socially a whole lot because we're both too busy, but yes. He and I even went down to enlist together during the war. Anyway, leave a message with Janie if I can help in the next few weeks. And when you need the coins, I can give them to her, if I know ahead of time."
"Could I make an appointment to interview you, like we talked about before? Especially now that Dr.--"
"Sure. How 'bout next week? After Thanksgiving vacation?"
"Fine. I'll arrange it with Janie. Did that man find you?"
"I came out of the conference room about an hour and a half ago, and Janie was out to lunch, and someone was sitting at your desk. He said he was using your phone while he waited for you to get back."
"What did he look like?"
"He wasn't very old. He could've been a professor, or he could've been a graduate student. He had dark hair and he was good-looking, but his clothes were rumpled and kind of dirty. I did notice one thing, though. He was wearing leather gloves, and I thought that was odd, if he was using your phone like he said."
"That's interesting. Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned it. Thanks."
Ben slid the key into Richard's lock and opened his kitchen door. Something smelled funny already; probably the cheese on the counter under the glass dome. He'd come back later and clean out the refrigerator and the cupboards, and maybe Maggie would come too and help salvage whatever was still good.
Richard had more kitchen equipment than Ben could believe possible, having specialized in French, Greek, and Chinese cuisine. And it took Ben a while to look through it.
He walked into the bedroom next, without noticing anything unusual. There was a double bed with a blue-striped Greek spread, a chest of drawers, a closet door with nothing behind it of particular interest, a disreputable Chesterfield chair and footstool, the two infamous brass floor lamps from the Salvation Army, and the Russian icon of the crucifixion Richard had bought in England during the war--which, aside from its artistic and religious value, was now worth an incredible amount of money.
The bathroom was what Ben had expected. Everything was put away, the same way it was in the bedroom and the kitchen. There were clean towels, shabby but still serviceable, and old nondescript fixtures. There were no sleeping pills, and no other medications in the cabinet except nitroglycerin, aspirin, and Alka-Seltzer, in addition to the usual first aid supplies and shaving equipment.
There was only a bed, a small chest of drawers, and a closet in the guest room, and that was filled with Richard's writing and memorabilia, which Ben sorted through superficially without finding anything that seemed significant. He pulled down the attic stairs and poked around up there, but nothing seemed unusual or out of place.
The dining room was on the other side of the hall from the guest room, and it was full of furniture Richard had inherited (a round, gateleg table and Queen Anne chairs, and an armoire filled with blue and white china). It looked just like it always had, with a single straw place mat and the family silver, and a book (Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson) open on the mahogany stand to the left of Richard's napkin.
Yet the living room was where Richard had really lived, and Ben could almost see him there, sitting in the dentist's chair he'd brought home from England, blowing smoke rings at the ceiling while he talked.
He'd combined the original two front rooms, turning one half into an office that he always kept stripped for work, and the other into a sitting room full of books and records and journals, stacked around two tan chairs and an old leather sofa covered with an African spread.
It didn't take Ben long to inspect the office, to go through the drawers in the worktable, and the picnic basket full of papers, and glance at the books in the bookshelves before turning to the clutter in the sitting room.
The desk Richard used for paying bills was on that side too, and it was another family piece, a tall bureau cabinet with doors at the top and drawers at the bottom and a writing surface in between.
Ben slid his hand across the smooth polished walnut and smiled to himself as he remembered the wording of the will he'd read that morning. Incorrigible old Richard. He'd left his money to three different charities, but he'd given Ben his Russian icon, his furnishings, his kitchen equipment and all his books, with one stipulation--Ben had to keep his collection of cookbooks intact in perpetuity, or forfeit the rest of the bequest. It was one of Richard's little jokes. He'd been trying to teach Ben to cook since Jessie died, as consciously as Ben had been avoiding it.
Ben sat at the desk and went through Richard's drawers, humming snatches of Mahler's Ninth and something by Bach he couldn't place.
He looked at his watch and put Richard's checkbook in the breast pocket of his trench coat. Then he gathered up five leather books Richard had bound himself, along with the leather-covered loose-leaf notebook he'd found beside Richard's typewriter, and put them in a cardboard box along with one French cookbook and the last two years of Richard West's personal papers.
"Come on, Journey! You know you want to do some work. Hurry up and get over here!"
The chestnut thoroughbred with the four white feet was gazing at Ben across the paddock. If there'd been any grass underfoot he would've made Ben come after him, but as things were, he sauntered toward the gate looking studiously unimpressed.
He walked sedately as Ben led him to the barn, since the wind wasn't blowing particularly hard, and Walter's dogs weren't running around. Journey always tried not to step on people or kick them, even when he was startled by a sudden noise. But he didn't humor them, and he didn't go out of his way to make them feel important.
Sometimes, if no one else was watching, he relaxed his standards. He might let his head rest on Ben's shoulder when his face was being brushed. He occasionally let Ben see that he did like to have his withers scratched; even that rubbing his nose on Ben's chest felt good, when they'd finished their work and he'd had his dinner.
But Ben was different than the ones he'd had before. He couldn't remember exactly what had happened, but he'd learned when he was young that humans take speed and pain and pay you back with neglect. Ben never slapped his flanks with a lead shank when he went into his stall, and he kept clean shavings under his feet, and his meals arrived regularly, which Journey, having nearly starved to death in his youth, knew only too well was the most important thing. There were actually times when he almost liked being around Ben. But that didn't mean that he'd let Ben see it.
"Journey's such a good boy. And you're a very good mover too, aren't you?" Ben leaned over and kissed the soft, delicate muzzle. And then he leaned toward a front hoof, and Journey, having anticipated it, held it up and offered it to Ben so he could pick out the mud on the bottom.
"We have to do the rest of them too, you know. That's right. Now let me brush your snoot. There, doesn't that feel good?"
Journey was standing quietly in the crossties and Ben was brushing the white patch on his forehead, when Journey lowered his mouth into Ben's upturned hand and closed his eyes and sighed.
The woods were deep with leaves, crackling in the wind and piled against fallen trees. The light was beautiful, dappling the soft ground, pillars of poured light and patches of shade. It reminded Ben of the ruined abbeys of England, the stone cathedrals broken into arches and empty spaces, of light places and dark corners carpeted with moss and soft green grass and grazing cream-colored sheep.
Ben was concentrating on the smells in the woods while Journey twitched underneath him with his head in the air and his ears pointed. He never did relax when they went cross-country. It probably had something to do with being on the track when he was young and having empty space in front of him and being expected to cover it as fast as he could.
A rabbit flew across the path and he bolted, briefly, settling back down to a hot quiver when Ben pulled him up. "It's okay, Journey. Nothing's going to hurt you. Just settle down, and we'll go home in a minute."
Ben's shoulders were tired, and he rolled them backward and forward, while he tried to remember what he'd been thinking about when Journey had lost control.
It came to him eventually and made him wonder what had happened to his concentration. He'd been trying to place the man Ellen had seen at his desk, the one who'd appeared in the office while Janie was out to lunch, who was good-looking and had dark hair and was wearing gloves and had said he was using the phone.
Not quite two hours later, Maggie had seen someone walking around the house, looking in the kitchen windows. His jacket was wrinkled and scruffy looking, which bothered Maggie. And when she'd opened the door to ask what he was doing there, he had beer on his breath in the middle of the afternoon.
Which means what? That the physical description narrows the field. And somebody was looking for something. The only personnel folder in Richard's desk, perhaps?
A lot of people know I'm the executor of Richard's will and have access to his personal effects. Bernard Greene wouldn't have much trouble finding that out, if he wanted to.
But neither would anyone else, and I refuse to jump to conclusions. Who was that criminologist from Mount Holly, New Jersey? He tried more than two hundred murder cases and had a much better conviction record than Scotland Yard or the Sûreté General of France. Ellis something. Ellis Parker. He was the one who used to say, "Facts don't lie. They can only be misinterpreted."
Even though that's not to say that there isn't a place for intuition.
But why did Richard have to be so inscrutable! What did he mean when he said, "You and I are the only people who can incriminate the guilty beast?" And when he quoted Johnson, when I was leaving for England, was that related to any of this?
Not to mention the fact that he could be more circuitous than anyone I've ever met, seeing it as an art form, as he did. If he'd gotten to the point a little sooner, I'd know what I was doing. But ... life is like that.
"Right, Journey? Come on, let's go home and get your dinner. It's getting dark faster than I thought it would."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Exquisitely written with every detail in the right place. Ben Reese is a hero you love meeting on the pages of the book, but he doesn't stay there, he's far too real for that. An intellectual scholar with the physical abilities of a commando fighter, Ben is still a very human man with longings and vulnerabilities. Add to that clever plotting by a villain that calls forth all of Ben's skills and settings so well-developed you can live in them.
Like any mystery writer, I¿ve been asked a lot of questions about where I get my ideas and how I plan a book. I could say dreams, eavesdropping, and perceptions I really care about - and that would be true. But it may be more helpful to say character, setting, and plot. Which is true in a larger context. For instance. Publish And Perish grew out of character. Out of Ben Reese. Out of a conversation I had in Blind River, Canada in 1973 with a university archivist I¿d known for years. My husband and I were standing on a dock on the edge of a large dark lake, watching the sun set and listening to the loons, talking with a professor I¿d known but never studied under, an archivist at a university who understood all sorts of arcane stuff I¿d never heard of. I knew his wife better. An English professor who¿d made pointed remarks years earlier, when she¿d heard about me in someone else¿s class, telling me cryptically that I wasn¿t working hard enough when I knew better - which was so undeniably true my only explanation was ¿youthful rebelliousness.' Anyway, this archivist was the right age to have been in World War II, and I asked if he¿d fought in the war. ¿Yes, in Europe.¿ ¿What did you do?¿ ¿Materials evaluation.¿ ¿Materials evaluation?...¿ I didn¿t let it drop, being the way I am, and eventually he told me he¿d been a behind-the-lines scout, a member of ¿The Nighttime Special,¿ who got sent out night after night, in groups of two or four, to take German command posts, photograph their documents, develop the photographs back at Intelligence and help analyze what they said about German troops and materials, and the strategic implications of both. Right at that moment - talking with that archivist as the sun set - I said, ¿Boy, you¿d make a great character in a mystery novel. A mild-mannered archivist who¿s also an ex-World War II scout.¿ He looked dubious. And I didn¿t start the book for years. I was pregnant with our first child, and had another two years later, and then worked at raising them while I wrote biography articles and avant garde novels (novels that got rejected by some very kind and well known editors - which was very little compensation at the time). But I¿d never forgotten my archivist friend. And when I finally decided to write a novel that might have a market in the real world, I named my archivist Ben Reese and began to give him a life - a past, and a family, and a childhood. I placed the book in 1960 next, when he was in his late thirties, because it worked well with Ben¿s life, and gave me a chance to contrast (by implication if nothing else) what American life was like then with what had become of it by the nineties. I interviewed my professor friend several times about being an archivist, and what he did in the war, even though he almost never talks about the war (hoping, like many people who faced what he faced, to put it behind him and move on). Then I said to myself, ¿Okay, what do I do with this? What kind of story would make sense with this fictional Ben Reese I¿ve got, whose life (and looks) are in my three ring binder? It would take place in a university. Obviously. At least the first book. But what kind of murder would make sense? What kind of pressures and conflicts would actually occur there in real life?¿ Publish And Perish is the two hundred page answer to that question - the answer that presented itself, at least, when I sat down and got to work.
I read Out of the Ruins and thought this would be as good, but it wasn't.