Harvard Has a Homicide
[Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.00]
HARVARD really has had one, perhaps two homicides. There was the undoubted tragedy of 1849, which brought sorrow to one family in Boston and to one in Cambridge. Fifty-two years later — in my own time — I saw a member of the Harvard faculty on trial for murder. (Quite properly, he was acquitted.) And some years later came the mysterious flight from Cambridge of a German instructor, strongly suspected of uxoricide. He turned up later, on Long Island, when he tried to murder a distinguished graduate of Harvard. The record is remarkable, and Professor William Lyon Phelps, that loyal son of Harvard’s traditional rival, has admitted, in my hearing, that Yale can show nothing like it.
Mr. Timothy Fuller is probably the first to give Harvard a fictitious homicide. This he has done in a rapidly moving and witty novel which need fear comparison with none of the murder mysteries of to-day. He pleasantly transported me to a region as unknown as the sources of the Hoang-ho: that is, to the Harvard College of the year 1936. To one who knew it in the Consulates of McKinley and Roosevelt Primus, this Harvard is a strange place, of Houses and their Masters; of tutors and tutees; of young men, all of whom are studying Italian art (and some of them writing e. e. cummingslike verses to the professor!), and of ravishing young lady librarians at the Fogg Museum — harrow and alas, that I came along too early for these!
Mr. Fuller’s amateur detective, Jupiter Jones, is working for a doctorate, but is only about twenty-four. He is, on the whole, a stout ‘fella,’ and a pretty good sort. There were one or two horrid moments when he seemed on the verge of going Philo Vance on us; and a chapter or so when the Scotch highballs flowed with a generosity reminiscent of that immortal detective (I forget his name) in The Thin Man. But he is saved by the good judgment and sense of humor of his inventor. To be sure, Jupiter takes the lovely girl-librarian into Boston for a dinner so bibulous that I almost reconsidered my decision and resolved to send my six grandsons to Oberlin instead of Harvard. One also learns with amazement that the wives of professors are no longer the elderly and austere consorts of distant gods, but may be quite skittish ladies, with no objection to something more than a mild flirtation with an unmarried and good-looking lecturer on art.
Aside from these revelations, which will be no news to many readers, Harvard Has a Homicide is never dull; the dialogue has plenty of punch; and the mystery is fairly presented and properly hidden. The identity of the assassin is revealed after an ‘Eeny-meeny-miny-mo’ process, which will give good guessers a lot of fun. And (this alone would make it distinguished) although the young hero takes a pretty superior attitude toward all the rest of the university, — both faculty and students, — he is not too supernaturally clever. What is refreshingly rare, the professional detective is no fool at all.