Genre: Adult True Crime Nonfiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook
Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Murder, sexual harassment, power imbalance, work place harassment, sexual assault
A murder at Harvard that’s been left unsolved for decades, the murder of Jane Britton is passed around as a bit of a ghost story, a poltergeist haunting the archaeology department. One undergrad, writer Becky Cooper, doesn’t want to leave it at that, and embarks on a quest to find the truth behind this brutal murder.
What unfolds in a eye-widening exploration of misogyny in academia, silencing on an institutional level, and frightening parallels between gender equality in the late 60’s/early 70’s and in the 2000’s.
The story-telling in this book makes the 500+ page novel not feel quite as cumbersome. Cooper does a brilliant job of partitioning the various sections of her investigation. In an outline, some of the tangents and side stories about the various affairs within the archaeology department (my lord, there are so many) might seem superfluous. The way all this information ties into the ending and the reasons how and why this murder went unsolved for so long really come together at the very end.
It feels like the thesis of this work is that the lengths academia will go to protect itself rather than it students knows no bounds. Each anecdote supports this. I wanted to scream when Harvard didn’t look into Jane’s murder more because the professor accused could not be proven to have done it. It’s definitely one of those situations where you know something is true, but seeing it unfold right before your eyes brings on a whole other set of emotions. The most depressing aspect: nothing much has changed in 50 or 60 years. And I don’t think it within the scope of the book to outline how those changes come about, but it did take its time acknowledging the women who made strides to make things better for those to come.
Deeply fascinating look into one department’s secrets in a framework of excellent true crime investigation and sympathetic reporting.