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by Ruth Dudley Edwards
Poisoned Pen Press, April 2007
192 pages
ISBN: 1590584139

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First let me say that my role models are the Red Queen from Alice's adventures in THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS and Baroness Jack Troutbeck from Ruth Dudley Edwards' series. The Baroness is so deliciously politically incorrect that she makes Maggie Thatcher look like Mary Poppins.

In this book, Edwards/Troutbeck takes on American academia. Baroness Jack is imported as a Distinguished Visiting Professor to Freeman University, a bastion of political correctness in Indiana. The provost, a woman after whom the baroness lusted, has brought her to campus, believing her to be a radical feminist. (Baroness Jack does not discriminate between the sexes when passing out her sexual favors.)

Since for most of the book she is deprived of her usual assistant, Robert Amiss, who is swanning around Eastern Europe with his new bride, Rachel, Jack is forced to take on the young woman who is assigned to chauffeur her, Betsy. Jack plays Henry Higgins to Betsy's Eliza, introducing her to Jane Austen, among other important cultural figures.

The college, the town, and most of the people are Jack's idea of hell. She finds the food inedible (hard to fathom for one who had dined on British food in the 1950s and 60s) and so must bring the management at her hotel to heel. She deplores the "dumbing down" of grades in the interest of preserving diversity and not ruining any student's self esteem.

As she noses around, the Baroness finds that one of the chancellors died under suspicious circumstances; his successor was ridden out for not being sufficiently politically correct, and, in the name of free speech, the current provost and her assistant/flunky are squashing any dissident voices.

The provost and her thug assistant are murdered, and Amiss finally arrives, helping the Baroness to enlist the services of a group of politically incorrect students in restoring some academic integrity to Freeman and replacing the politically correct administrators with 'throwbacks' to Freeman's days of commitment to academic excellence.

The Baroness is always a treat, a character who leaps off the page and shakes her fist in your face. The secondary characters are painted clearly, some in their smug self-righteousness and others striving to make Freeman a place of quality education.

The plot sometimes gets bogged down with ancillary issues, such as the Baroness' preoccupation with food, but, by and large, it skims through the groves of academe.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, February 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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