Murder at the MLA

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

MURDER AT THE MLA takes a while to get its bearings beforesettling in as a satire on the academic community. Purportedly amystery, it does involve a homicide investigation, but mysterydevotees are likely to be disappointed. Jones structures the novelas a police procedural but keeps most of the clues from beingdiscovered until the denouement.

The murder investigation acts as a launching pad for Nancy Cook,a somewhat disgruntled professor, to tell homicide investigatorBoaz Dixon about the politics and foibles of the community oflanguage scholars. Dixon asks her for information to use asbackground for his investigation and gets dozens of pages of herthoughts on academic hiring, trendiness in scholarship, and lack ofrespect for teaching. Cook eventually provides knowledge aboutpostmodernist academic scholarship that is vital to figuring outthe bizarre but amusing motive behind the killings. Clearly, Jonesused this novel as a vehicle to air grievances about academia. Fortunately, the gripes come out in a relatively light manner, withentertaining characters illustrating various quirks. The book isfar more successful as a satire than as a mystery.

The author wrote under the pseudonym of D. J. H. Jones, possiblyto guard his or her identity against any backlash from the academiccommunity and possibly to guard his or her reputation againstunfavorable reviews. Presumably a scholar of language, Jones doesnot appear to be a practiced novelist. The beginning of the booksuffers both from shifting points of view that make the readerunsure whose story is being told and from painfully long physicaldescriptions of settings and characters that bring the story to ahalt. Peculiar references to uncommon geometric shapes, referencesthat serve no apparent purpose, plague most of the book, and othervocabulary is in places unnecessarily opaque. MURDER AT THE MLA, therefore, will find its most satisfied audience in readers who areinterested in the machinations of academia, are fond of satire, andare fans of mysteries, in that order or preferablysimultaneously.