A Review of "Murdering Americans" by Ruth Dudley Edwards

Nov 6, 2008

Murray, KY – Ruth Dudley Edwards is a historian, journalist, and biographer, born in Ireland and now living in London, who began writing mystery fiction in 1981. Murdering Americans is her eleventh crime novel. Her detective here is the rightwing Lady Troutbeck , a member of the House of Lords by virtue of her title and also the head of St. Martha's College in Cambridge ( a wholly fictional college, by the way). Ida, Lady Troutbeck, who insists on being called Jack, is a Margaret Thatcher Conservative, and the trouble starts when she accepts an invitation to teach at an American college. Jack descends on Freeman University in Indiana as a distinguished faculty visitor, and discovers a corrupt president and a violently repressive provost who, under the aegis of diversity, imposes a tyrannical political correctness. Political correctness is Jack's meat; she likes nothing better than to do battle with it, always from her own particular political perspective. We might almost expect we were dealing with a political tract here, except Jack's politics and methods are so over-the-top. Also the book is funny in taking its shots at liberalism. We know how seriously to take things from the beginning, when Jack is detained by security at the airport because of something that her parrot said.

Also, of course, there is something for Jack to investigate. The former provost died under mysterious circumstances. Students are beaten up or expelled if they try to demand that teachers teach. Jack mounts a revolution of dissatisfied students on Founder's Day and all turns out well. She doesn't really solve the crime, but she happens to have her pistol with her (illegal, of course) and she shoots the boy who presumably murdered the provost and the provost's goon, when the boy tries to kill someone else at the Founder's Day activities.

Before this d nouement, though, Jack has to try to make the culinary desert of New Paddington, Indiana livable. She enlists the aid of a willing student to help with this task, but when she tries to hire other students to help her investigation of the college administration, the students meet with a mysterious accident. Jack is up to the challenge, though, and brings in her own help in the form of her young friend Robert Amiss, who is the detective in some of Edwards's earlier books.

If your politics match those of Edwards's Jack Troutbeck, you'll enjoy this book. And if you're of a more liberal persuasion but can laugh at liberalism's excesses, you may like it, too. The trick here is to disregard the book's not so subtle, Anne Coulterish implication that liberalism itself is the problem, leading to repressive and violent behavior.