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Can a class of wannabe novelists solve a murder in their midst? That's the premise of this dark comedy of the absurd from Willett (Winner of the National Book Award), a boisterous satire of pseudointellectuals, impotent writers and the adult extension programs of public universities. The only things Amy Gallup, a once-noted California author, has published in years are blurbs of other writers' work. Amy's only income comes from teaching fiction writing to a motley collection of varyingly talented "prepublished" adults. Someone in the class is making threatening phone calls and sending extremely cruel notes to other students. When two of the students are murdered, a deep sense of danger takes hold. Yet the class goes on. Amy's lectures actually constitute a damn fine guide to writing fiction, while Willett's prose has sparkling moments ("The line was playful, offhand, the poem itself a smug, imperious cat stretch"). The tension is so strong that readers can hardly resist the temptation to peek ahead and see which student is the killer. (June) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Verdict: While the early chapters in which Willett skewers writing workshop conventions are very funny, she's unable to sustain the satirical tone, and the book devolves into a conventional mystery. With the exception of Amy and Alphonse, the characters are cardboard clichEs. For larger fiction collections. Background: In this follow-up to Willett's savage black comedy Winner of the National Book Award, which brilliantly explored the nature of sibling love and rivalry, readers meet novelist Amy Gallup, who has seen her literary star sink into obscurity. Her books are out of print, and she's stopped writing except for her blog. Overweight and approaching 60, Amy is an embittered, widowed loner with only Alphonse, her bassett hound, for company, and she cobbles a living doing online editorial work and teaching fiction writing classes at the local university. Her current class is a mix of the usual writer wannabes--blonde airhead Tiffany McGee ("I don't read a lot but I wanna write"), pompous surgeon Richard Surtees, who's writing a medical thriller titled Code Black; matronly Dorothy Hieronymous ("a clueless Margaret Dumont book-club type"); retired schoolteacher Edna Wentworth, who shows some literary talent--but Amy soon realizes that one of her students may be a homicidal nutcase. And when a class member is murdered, Amy must dissect her students' writings to identify the killer.--Wilda Williams, Library Journal Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.