By Nancy Tannler
As a full time college professor at Portland Community College for the past twenty years, Jan Underwood experienced first-hand the personal and political life of her students and colleagues. She gathered a lot of material that flamed the fire for her second novel, Utterly HEARTLESS.
This mystery/supernatural/literary novel takes place in a very rainy city around Middlebridge College campus. Underwood does an admirable job of developing her cast of characters as they are a convincing lot of archetypes offbeat, straight, evil and mythological, that one can easily envision in the overcast setting. Her in-depth knowledge of the classics and Greek language makes Utterly HEARTLESS a slightly academic read as well as funny, suspenseful and political.
The novel addresses the rising cost of tuition in the nation and how students pay for it. Alice, one of the main characters, makes hatch-marks in her Latin notebook– “…446 to go. That was the exact number of nights of stripping she had left before graduation.” Some of her other classmates have equally as creative solutions to pay for rising tuition. The school board purposes to cut costs by making professors teach more classes per day, increase class size and offer online classes.
Classical Studies Professor Linnea Nil is taking charge of the situation by organizing a union to oppose the takeover of her college. Unfortunately there are those that don’t want this type of action and Linnea finds herself dead, traveling through the underworld.
As she is unaffiliated to any religious or spiritual order, she samples some possibilities of an afterlife with Virgil Mar, (Aeneid) as her mentor. There’s a mystery to solve, a philosophical dilemma to resolve and romances to work out. Underwood writes about them with great imagination and humor.
Underwood was born in Pennsylvania and lived in Canada, France and mexico. Her parents were English professors and her childhood homes were decorated with books. As an only child, she learned early on to look to herself for entertainment. Fortunately she loved to read and, by the time she could hold a pen and form sentences, she began writing stories.
“The stories tell themselves,” she said, “it just takes time to write it down.” The end result is very satisfying for the reader.
This book and her other one, Day Shift Werewolf are availabe from Amazon.
Jan Underwood will read from and sign copies of her book at 7 pm, Wednesday, October 16 at the Blackbird Wine Shop, 4323 NE Fremont.