Teaching American women's literature at New England's prestigious Enfield College has shown Karen Pelletier just how cutthroat the world of academe can be. But nothing in her tenure has prepared her for the perils to come, as this bastion of higher learning throws open its doors to a cleverly calculating killer.
A battered copy of Charlotte Bront�'s Jane Eyre leads Professor Karen Pelletier to the long-forgotten novels of an obscure writer named Serena Northbury. When she decides to pen the author's biography, she sets off a raging controversy. Everyone, from her esteemed colleagues to her tyrannical department head, regards Northbury's nineteenth-century writings as trash. But when the intrepid researcher stumbles upon a treasure trove of Northbury's papers--including what looks very much like an unpublished novel--Karen knows she cannot quit, for what could be more thrilling?
Unfortunately, someone takes exception to Karen's penchant for digging up the past. Before long, she is the unlikely suspect in a homicide--and the target of an erudite killer who is poised to kill again.
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August 03, 1999
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Excerpt from The Northbury Papers by Joanne Dobson
The bookplate was ornate in the nineteenth-century manner, a rich cream-colored rectangle with a wide border of morning glories and tangled vines. In Gothic lettering it read Ex Libris Mrs. Serena Northbury. I closed the book and turned it over to look at the title. Mrs. Northbury's bookplate was affixed to the inside front cover of a well-preserved, half-morocco-bound copy of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. "Wow," I said to Jill, "where'd you get this?" Jill Greenberg slid her tray across the Faculty Dining Commons table, pushed the unruly red hair back from her forehead, and sat down next to me. "You know that antiquarian bookstore in Pittsfield, the one on North Street?" I nodded, fanning lightly through the pages in search of any possible Northbury artifacts; you never know what you'll find preserved between the pages of an old book. "Well, I was browsing there with . . . well, I was browsing, and the cover caught my eye. Then I saw Serena Northbury's bookplate and knew you'd be interested. It's beautiful, isn't it?" "Yeah, they really knew how to make books in those days." The title was stamped in gold on the leather-bound spine of this one, and the dark blue covers were spackled in green. "A lot of the time it didn't much matter what was inside, but the book itself had to be a work of art." Finding no treasures between the ragged-edged pages, I handed the volume to Jill. She pushed it back toward me with both hands. "Keep it, Karen." She picked up her ham and Swiss on rye and nibbled. "You're probably the only person left in the entire universe who cares about Northbury." "Jill, I can't take this." I wanted the book. It had been owned--been touched, been read--by a nineteenth-century American novelist with whom I was becoming increasingly fascinated. But I couldn't afford to indulge myself in luxuries. On the scale of professional salaries, English professors rank just slightly above church mice, and the average church mouse isn't paying tuition for a daughter studying premed at Georgetown. "This must have cost a fortune." "Nah." Money was never an object with Jill. It had never had to be; she was the daughter of a Park Avenue psychiatrist. A psychopharmacologist, yet. The streets of the Upper East Side are paved almost entirely in Prozac, and Papa had a great deal of money in his pocket. At the age of twenty-five, Jill had no education debts, and no one but herself to lavish her salary on. "It wasn't that much. The book dealer said the book wasn't a first edition or a particularly valuable one, so basically he was just charging for the binding." "Well," I said. "If you're sure . . ." I turned the handsome volume around and ran my forefinger over the gilt lettering of the title. "I'm a little surprised to find that Northbury read Jane Eyre. Her own novels are nothing like it. They're really quite--well--sentimental. But they're so interesting. . . ." "'Interesting,' my foot. Why don't you just admit you like trash?" "It's not trash." I felt defensive; the grip Serena