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Three and one half moon gifWalker Publishing Company (Hardcover),
ISBN 0-8027-3342-5

Shame stalks the State University of Michigan campus in Lev Raphael's fourth Nick Hoffman mystery, Little Miss Evil. Shame, treated with a light, humorous touch, guides Nick Hoffman through relationships and life. Shame shapes the dysfunctional academic group that peoples the Nick Hoffman series. Shame also serves as motive for the inevitable murder -- a murder, readers and characters together await with rising tension through most of the book. 

Book: Lev Raphael, Little Miss EvilWith a twinkle in his eye and a gentle hand, Raphael writes a novel about functional, dysfunctional and loving families formed by work, love, DNA or a combination thereof. These families resemble those cited in the literary references he sprinkles throughout the book. 

With a literary background based more on P. J. O'Rourke than Edith Wharton, I appreciate the book's pop culture references. I particularly enjoyed the author's observation early in the book that literary fiction "was as enticing a prospect these days as a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective to Jesse Helms." 

In such a humorous and well-paced mystery, Raphael mixes highly controversial topics as easily as Nick and his lover Stefan whip up potato lasagna with wild mushrooms and celery herb sauce. A glimpse into life of this gay couple reveals complications at every turn -- complications that range from a torched mailbox to Nick's unexpected attraction to a woman!  

Book: Lev Raphael, The Death of A Constant LoverWhile Nick worries over the consequences of his unnatural/natural reactions to the high-octane, leopard-skin clad beauty, Nick's partner Stefan wallows in depression over a fading writing career. Stefan, along with other faculty members, faces additional distress in the form of the new high priestess on campus. In addition to collecting an impressive salary and writing financially successful, critically acclaimed books, this professorial piranha knows how to twist the psychological knife and unmask insecurities with each encounter.  

The college setting, described right down to the petty academic jealousies, adds to the fun of this series. Mystery lovers should enjoy the reading list of books Nick, a non-tenured faculty member, compiles for his class on mysteries (everything from Janet Evanovich to Dame Agatha Christie with some Chandler and Doyle reverently thrown in).  

However, I would like to make one request for future Nick Hoffman mysteries. Would someone, please, compile the recipes for those delectable gourmet meals the duo creates in their perfectly appointed kitchen. And maybe add more wine information for us non-connoisseurs. A CD featuring the music Nick mentions wouldn't be amiss either. For the first time, a mystery series succeeds in improving my literary, gourmet, wine and music palate -- or at least gives me a glimpse of what I'm missing.  

Dawn Goldsmith

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