Lately the products of Yale Law School have not done much for creating harmony between America’s uneasy races. Lucky for Yale that law professor Carter may be able to mend the Clintons’ damage and still have something left over to redress several centuries of bad blood and bad behaviour. That said, reducing Carter’s crime novel to its nuanced teachings about race relations is limiting; limiting to the struggle to make race irrelevant and limiting to this book which covers other themes, no less small; what is religious belief, how well do we know our intimate partners and how far are we willing to go for them.
The protagonists of “New England White” are Lemaster and Julia Carlyle. Lemaster is the new African-American president of a New England University that is not but resembles Yale. Julia is his monumental wife. Both — together with their troubled daughter — are drawn into the murder investigation of a prominent professor who was the former boyfriend of the latter and a thorn in the side of the former. The plot involves secret societies and political connections among America’s African-American elite as well as WASP tensions in a New England town and the complex effects of the civil rights movement on real people.
But don’t be discouraged by the big themes. It is everything else a crime novel should be; clever, labyrinthine and populated with compelling characters acting in a vivid setting. “New England White” does not refer only to those WASPS as anyone who has spent winter north of Rhode Island and East of Ohio can tell you.