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Quaker Witness

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

QUAKER WITNESS is Irene Allen’s second novel featuring an unusual detective—the devout, elderly, Quaker widow Elizabeth Elliot. As in QUAKER SILENCE (1992), this quiet woman applies the same analytical skills in unmasking a killer that she uses daily to discover and eliminate with her own moral blemishes. The story begins with Elliot feeling called to approach an obviously troubled young woman sitting in the Meetinghouse of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Society of Friends, which the widow serves as clerk. From this female graduate student, Elliot learns that because she has filed a complaint of sexual harassment against her male adviser at Harvard, she is now threatened with the end of her professional life.

Almost immediately, however, graduate student Janet Stevens is in need of more than sympathy. When the adviser is found dead in his laboratory, the victim of poisonous gas, his accuser becomes a prime suspect. Elliot now marshals her network of Friends, produces legal aid for Janet, and starts looking for the killer. Her search takes her through the administrative offices and the laboratories of the university, where she encounters not only cowardice and sexism but also ruthless competition for degrees, grants, promotions, and prestige. Fortunately, even in this cutthroat world there are those who, presented with a choice, will place truth above their own interests, thus enabling Elliot to identify the professor’s murderer. QUAKER WITNESS is something quite new in an old genre: an application of spiritual insights to the real world of villains and victims. In Elizabeth Elliot’s world, there are issues more profound and more interesting even than crime and punishment.