How many of you have let your mind wander while editing that difficult genetics manuscript to imagine yourself in a whole new role? Of course, you’d never lose the skills that make you a diligent and gifted editor, but you’d put those skills to more glamorous use. Maybe you daydream of being a Nellie Bly–style reporter, going undercover to reveal corruption at insane asylums. Maybe a witty Nora Ephronesque screenwriter, penning romantic comedies to popular acclaim. Maybe even an adventuresome explorer such as Isabella Bird, chronicling her travels through the Sandwich Islands. If you are an editor prone to flights of fancy, then Dangerous Admissions: Secrets of a Closet Sleuth by Jane O’Connor is the book for you.
Jane O’Connor, author of the popular children’s series Fancy Nancy, has created a heroine for editors who long for adventure—Miranda “Rannie” (rhymes with Annie) Bookman. Rannie has been fired from her job as executive managing editor at Simon and Schuster for approving a print run of 5000 copies of a collector’s edition of the first Nancy Drew book—The Secret of the Old Clock. The only problem is the missing lowercase “l” from the last word of the book title. Heads rolled, and Rannie was forced to roll out the door, thus beginning a less than satisfying career as a freelance editor.
As all freelancers know, you take work where and when you can get it. Rannie is editing a book on Josef Mengele, chief physician at Auschwitz, for $40 per hour and giving tours of her children’s exclusive private school, the Chapel School (Chaps), to make ends meet. She appreciates having the work, but she feels “untethered, superfluous, a forty-three-year-old dangling participle.” Rannie is a woman with a high IQ, a fertile imagination, and too much time on her hands. Therefore, when the (mostly) beloved director of college admissions, A. Lawrence Tutwiler (Mr Tut), is found dead in his office at Chaps and Rannie’s son Nate becomes a suspect, Rannie fills her spare time by investigating the murder.
Dangerous Admissions chronicles Rannie’s encounters with several murder suspects: Chaps student Olivia Werner and her troubled brother Grant, school bully Elliot Ross and his well-connected father David, English teacher Augusta Hollins, and new Chaps headmaster Jonathan Marshall. She encounters romance along the way with fellow Chaps parent Tim Butler. Traveling alongside Rannie as she unravels the mystery of Mr Tut’s murder is a fast-paced and fun joyride, but for editors the real treat is how Rannie uses her editorial skills to successfully solve the mystery.
The novel is peppered with details that will engage any editor, freelance or full time. Rannie has a proofreader’s eye, quickly noticing misspellings on menus (“You think maybe I should tell them their menu offers ‘French fires’ and ‘dally specials’?”). She can spot a verbal phrase dangler at 50 paces (“‘Growing up in California, New York was always my dream,’ he stated, Rannie mentally wincing. . . . New York hadn’t grown up in California, he had.”). She has a mastery of those tricky “-ly” words, cringing at the misuse of the terms badly (“Bad. You felt bad. If you have a defective sense of touch, then you feel badly.”) and really (“A moment later Rannie stood, attempting to convince herself he wasn’t that attractive and taking note of his use of ‘real’ instead of ‘really’. . .). She even knows her who from her whom (“‘Whom shall I say is calling?’ ‘Who’ not ‘whom’ the grammar cop, never off duty, silently corrected.”). Even when she’s cornered by the killer, her mind flits to correcting his use of the word different (“‘Differently,’ her inner copy editor ludicrously insisted.”). It’s these particulars that make the book such an enjoyable read for editors.
The only quibble I have is the few typos and usage errors that appear in the book. For example, the word psych is misspelled as pysche and psycho as pyscho. In addition, a character foregoes a cigarette rather than forgoes a cigarette. Normally, such minor errors could be easily overlooked, but in a story that hinges on the abilities of an eagle-eyed editor, these errors cause the reader to disengage. As Rannie herself says, “Hotshot editors with fat Rolodexes and expense accounts might dismiss proofreaders as punctuation-obsessed fussbudgets, gnashing their teeth over split infinitives. But reading was such a crazy process when you thought about it. At some point you stopped being aware that you were decoding squiggles printed in black ink on white paper. Suddenly you entered another world. It was all an illusion, and misspellings, inconsistencies, anachronisms, wrong dates—whatever—wrecked the illusion.”
It’s Rannie’s editorial eye and attention to detail that lead her to solve the mystery of Mr Tut’s murder. She does it all armed with only her swift mind and Col-Erase blue pencil. (And let me tell you, that blue pencil really comes in handy!) She’s a heroine all editors who’ve dreamed of adventure can get behind. So, if you’re looking for a distraction from that genetics manuscript, pick up a copy of Dangerous Admissions and let the daydreaming begin.—Laura King, MA, ELS