three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-New England WhiteOn a cold November night, Lemaster Carlyle, recently appointed the first African American president of Elm Harbor University, and his wife, Julia, deputy dean of the divinity school, return from a fund-raiser and find the body of Professor Kellen Zant in the snow. Julia, who had been romantically involved with Zant many years before, soon discovers that he left her numerous cryptic messages—ones she believes may be linked to a 20-year-old crime and the high-ranking men who would do anything, including murder, to conceal the truth. When she learns that her teenaged daughter was embroiled in Zant’s research, Julia defies her powerful husband and the authorities to decode the clues and catch Zant’s killer.
Knopf. 576 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0375413626

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Carter, himself a professor of law at Yale, had an impressive history in the world of nonfiction before he wrote The Emperor of Ocean Park, and he wisely stays close to the same themes of higher-ed perfidy and the rarified air of black high society in New England White. Again, Carter sets all this against the background of an engrossing whodunit, written with wit and intelligence, as if Carter is having as much fun telling the story as you are reading it." Tom Walker

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In the 500-plus pages of New England White, he’s up to more than suspense and the gothic apparatus—including coded anagrams and cracked mirrors—he wields with considerable aplomb. … The plot of New England White is also sufficiently expansive to allow room for some serious thinking about the progress of ‘the darker nation’ at a time when neither political party has much time for the intractable challenges of race and poverty." Christopher Benfey

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Whenever interest in the plot flags or Julia’s pompous husband bores (which is frequently), Carter comes through with a description of what it’s like to be one of five African-American families living in a wealthy white enclave or else he uncorks a pithy saying by Julia’s grandmother, a grand dame of Harlem high society. … As with Carter’s first novel … New England White operates as much as an examination of race and class consciousness among what the Yale law professor frequently calls ‘the darker nation’ as it does as a mystery." Yvonne Zipp

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In truth, the thriller elements of White become melodramatic by the end. But the characters are so textured, and Carter slips in so many original, thought-provoking observations, that the reader is sad the killer has been caught—meaning the end of the book is near." Deirdre Donahue

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The unraveling of this long and convoluted puzzle [of Zant’s killer], as in Carter’s previous mystery, is relayed in awkward fits and starts—the least interesting aspects of a mostly enjoyable novel. … We know by now that the author is only partly concerned with whodunit; he’d rather ponder why any of us does the things we do—especially the bad things." Jabari Asim

Miami Herald 3 of 5 Stars
"The slaying of economics professor Kellen Zant propels this thick, intellectually stimulating thriller that neatly combines elements of suspense with terrific if unsettling cultural insights into what Carter terms ‘African America,’ its upper-class families and fierce traditions and its shaky coexistence with the white power structure. … Carter, more Scott Turow than John Grisham, builds his mystery meticulously, but though he exhaustively reiterates every clue—or perhaps because he does—New England White ultimately grows fatiguing, its logic repetitive, and its final confrontation comes off as ridiculous." Connie Ogle

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"It is on that level [as a thriller] that New England White fails to satisfy, not because of its length … or the complex conspiracy at its heart, but because of the heavy-handed plotting and deductive leaps of faith the novel asks of readers that become hard to stomach. That said, one must acknowledge that Carter is a thoughtful writer whose wide-ranging intelligence and insights traverse terrain that encompasses campus intrigue, economic theory, political dirty tricks, religion, antique mirrors, anagrams and more." Paula L. Woods

Critical Summary

Featuring the setting and two minor characters from his best-selling debut novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, Stephen L. Carter has crafted a literary thriller peppered with shrewd observations about wealth, power, race, culture, and politics. Several critics were disappointed with the murder mystery, citing a melodramatic plot with too many characters. However, the Washington Post declared, "Let’s be honest: No one should read a Carter novel for the mystery." Indeed, Carter’s astute dissection of the upper-class black milieu and his scathing portrait of the subtly racist community surrounding the university shine brightest, offering a compelling exploration of ethics and power. Fans of his first novel will certainly welcome his second.

Also by the Author

The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002): 3 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2002. After his prominent father’s funeral, Elm Harbor University law professor Talcott Garland must solve the mystery of his untimely death. His only clues are a puzzling note and the mysterious men following his every move.