Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Emily Dickinson's poems form the setting for Jane Langton’s Emily Dickinson is Dead.

Amherst, Massachusetts, and Emily’s family home play a part in the story, but Emily’s poems are more important.

Most chapters begin and end with a snippet from a Dickinson poem. Many chapters have Dickinson quotes in the middle. Dickinson poetry gives direction to the plot. Dickinson’s view of death informs the story.

Dickinson scholar Professor Owen Kraznik and his friend Homer Kelly “solve” the crimes. Kelly is a retired cop who is now a well-known Thoreau scholar. They have come together for a Dickinson symposium timed for the 100th anniversary of her death.

Everyone wants to own Emily Dickinson. Academia is a cutthroat world. Each scholar wants to claim he has special insight into the enigmatic poet. (He is the correct word. They leave the women out!)

 One scholar says he owns an authentic picture of the poet, only the second photo in existence. He claims he can prove that the photo is real. He plans to use the photo to get  a more prestigious position. 

Amherst citizens somehow believe they own the long-dead poet. Only Kraznik, the real expert, takes a rational view of Emily. Only Kraznik (and maybe Homer Kelly) seem to know she's dead.

This story is different. We know all along who commits the crimes. We watch Kraznik and Kelly work through what we already know.

Langton fills the book with interesting characters. The town doctor talks about the Hippocratic Oath, though he can’t pronounce “Hippocratic.” Other unique characters walk through these pages. 

Emily Dickinson is Dead ends with action. The book is well-plotted and a lot of fun. 

This Homer Kelly Mystery is another one of those books I picked up at a special e-book price. I have already bought the second book in the series at the full e-book price.  I can see myself trying to read them all.

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