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Volume 2, Number 2, Feb 2002

A Darker Shade of Crimson: An Ivy League Mystery

Thomas-Graham, P. (1998). Simon and Schuster.

Review by Bill Warters

If you are looking for some fun reading, exploring campus conflict through fiction, perhaps you might enjoy A Darker Shade of Crimson. I sure did, but then I'm a fan of campus murder mysteries.

As the story unfolds, the female Dean of Students of Harvard Law School if found dead, apparently due to a fall down a flight of steps during a power outage. The body is discovered by Nikki Chase, a young African American assistant professor in the Economics Department. Rosezella Fisher, the deceased, was a smart, politically astute African American woman who had earned some enemies in her diligent climb to the deanship. Nikki, who serves as our narrator, worked with Rosezella on a committee examining university finances. In order to finish an important University budget report, Nikki must locate two of the dead woman's computer disks. She soon begins to suspect foul play and starts an investigation that takes the reader into some of the formal and informal social networks found both on and off campus.

The author uses the investigation to incorporate attitudes toward race and integration into the story, contrasting for instance older African Americans formed by the Civil Rights movement to younger middle-class blacks who seem to take for granted the movements achievements. Suspects in the case include the debonair new university president who promoted Fisher from the secretarial ranks (allegedly thanks to her talents between the sheets), a slimy comptroller with a repertoire of bilingual come-ons and a black radical bookseller who is the dead woman's ex-husband.

The author, Pamela Thomas-Graham, the first black woman partner at a large management consultant firm in New York, is a three-degree Harvard alumnus (B.A., J.D. and M.B.A.). Her familiarity with both the campus and the issues explored in the book make for a convincing and fun portrait of intrigue and murder at her alma mater.

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