Amanda Cross set out, with the invention of Kate Fansler, to reanimate a venerable but then neglected tradition within detective fiction: that of elegant armchair detection. Learning her lessons from the masters of the old school— Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie—Cross infused her whodunits with a healthy moral awareness. She chose the academic milieu, particularly well suited for the testing of ethical positions and social responsibilities, a place where personal and political rivalries can be intense but where murder itself is still a shock. Here, too, the detective can be appreciated as an individual of exceptional sensibility and imaginative power; in this world, in fact, the detective can be a woman.
Through Cross’s creation of Kate Fansler, a professor-sleuth, the art of literate conversation at last gained credence in the American detective novel. Through her, too, Cross worked out a dynamic balance between irony and earnestness, between romance and realism, and strove to create out of the detective-story conventions something more.